Title: Striker Jones: Elementary Economics for Elementary Detectives
Author: Maggie M. Larche
Concepts: barter, child schooling and work, good/services, incentives, markets and competition, money/banking, opportunity cost, scarcity
Review: Striker Jones has a knack for solving everyday mysteries. He may not have the exact vocabulary for it, but his ability to solve these mysteries is always based on his innate understanding of economic concepts.
Striker Jones begins with a beach day right before school starts and continues on to various episodes in the titular character’s life through the end of the school year and the beginning of a new summer vacation. There is no over-arching plot but instead a series of vignettes. Each vignette presents a mystery that Striker solves, with its solution involving economic concepts.
For instance, in the first mystery, Striker’s classmate Zack finds an Indian arrowhead along the pier at the beach. Excited by this find, Striker’s friend Bill offers to trade a baseball card with Zack in exchange for the arrowhead. But later, when Zack sees Bill swimming near the same pier, he gets worried that Bill will find another arrowhead and nullify their earlier agreement to trade. In a panic, he shouts “shark!” and watches as everyone gets out of the water. Striker smells something fishy and realizes Zack’s true motivation. Through this story, children are absorbing lessons about barter, scarcity, etc. Larche avoids intimidating children with grown-up economic vocabulary, but the lessons are there nevertheless and a teacher or another adult could choose to elucidate by explicitly introducing and defining economic concepts. (In fact, Larche also has a teacher companion to Striker Jones available for just that purpose.)
In terms of layout, the book is interactive in that each story ends by asking children how Striker figured out a mystery, and then waits another page to give the solution and wrap up that particular storyline. As seen in the example given above, the stories are very much the kind of things kids are used to – picking teams for dodgeball, meeting the new girl at school, making holiday crafts at school, a school field trip, and so on – thus illustrating how economics lesson can truly be found in everyday activities.
As mentioned earlier, there is no over-arching plot, but the book seems like a cohesive work, not a cobbled-together effort. There is consistency throughout as the story progresses chronological and as characters re-appear. The cast of compelling characters includes Striker’s friends, classmates, teachers, parents, a pretty girl who Striker admires, and a rival who often gets his comeuppance. Striker Jones himself is a character readers will be bound to love – he is down to earth, likeable, funny, willing to help people out (he won’t rat out their secrets if they promise not to do a wrong deed again), and knows his strengths (logically reasoning problems out to solve mysteries) and weaknesses (singing!).
Striker Jones is an excellent text for older elementary students beginning to grasp more and more complicated economic concepts. Through its easy flowing narrative with lots of conversational dialogue, children will learn to see that economics affect their daily life far more than they realized!
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children