Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

EconKids Home Top 5 Books by Concept Economic Role of Government

Top Five Books on Economic Role of Government

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Title:  Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak
Author:  Kay Winters
Illustrator:  Larry Day
Publisher:  Dutton Children's Books
ISBN:  978-0-525-47872-0
Year: 2008
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 5.0

Concepts:  jobs, human resources, economic role of government, monopoly

 Shoemakers who pull teeth for customers with toothaches, and barbers who apply leaches to bruises and let blood drain to cure a fever.  These are but two of the many interesting tidbits about occupations during the Colonial period that make this book an enjoyable read for children and adults alike.  As the central premise of the book, young Ethan, a printer’s errand boy, makes his way around a number of local businesses in Boston on that fateful day in December 1773 leading up to the Boston Tea Party.  He is charged with delivering news about the tea tax, Governor Hutchinson’s decisions, and the protest meeting that evening in the Old South Meeting House. At each of Ethan’s stops, the reader hears about the political views and job responsibilities of the colonial merchants through their own voices.

The stunning watercolor-and-ink illustrations, the themed typeset and layout, and the map of Colonial Boston inside the book’s covers reinforce the book’s historical theme.  A concerted effort to add vocabulary from the Colonial era and detailed occupational descriptions in the historical notes further contribute to the book’s high marks on substantive content. Although Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak mostly covers the economics concept of jobs, its focus on the Boston Tea Party also make it a useful vehicle for teaching about monopolies and taxes.  Most readers will finish the book more informed about this pivotal event in Colonial history, and relieved that we do not need to visit the shoemaker and barber for our healthcare needs.

Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Title:  Owney, the Mail-Pouch Pooch
Author:  Mona Kerby
Illustrator:  Lynne Barasch
Publisher:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN:  0-374-35685-8
Year:  2008
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 4.8

Concepts:  services, economic role of government

  By chance one rainy night back in 1888, a starving stray dog found his way into the Albany, NY post office through an open door in the back. Although somewhat perplexed to discover a sleeping dog on top of the mail pouches the following morning, the postal workers let the dog stay, cared for him, and named him Owney.  Owney really liked the various smells and activities of the post office, and he became the workers’ faithful mail guard, rat catcher, and companion. Not content to just rest on his mailbags, Owney also had an unusual habit of chasing after trains and leaping into the mail cars.  He traveled all over the country, and thanks to a clever system with dog tags and a growing national reputation, he always returned to Albany.

This appealing and informative story, based on historical records, offers teachers and parents an excellent vehicle for teaching about a subject that children may otherwise find abstract or uninteresting:  the economic role of government.  The book may even inspire children to take a field trip to the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, which houses Owney’s preserved body and displays a bronze statue of Owney at the front door with a sign to rub Owney for good luck.  Motivating children to learn about public sector workers and services doesn’t get much better than this.

Review by:
  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

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Title: Long Walk to Freedom
Author:  Nelson Mandela
Abridged by: Chris van Wyk
Illustrator: Paddy Bouma
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
ISBN:  978-1-59643-566-7
Year: 2009

Concepts:  Discrimination, economic role of government, poverty, social justice, racial equality.

Review:  Nelson Mandela, born into South Africa's Thembu tribe to a chief who taught him bravery and a wise mother who taught him kindness, learned at an early age that white people ruled the country and controlled virtually all the wealth. Named Rolihlahla, or "troublemaker", Mandela grew up in an extended family that believed in the power of education, and he ultimately completed a bachelor's degree and studied law. True to his moniker, Mandela did stir up plenty of trouble in his decades-long struggle to end South Africa's oppressive system of racial apartheid.

Angry that the country's institutionalized form of discrimination left most black people living in poverty while whites enjoyed a comfortable standard of living, Mandela and his collaborators formed the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League, and they organized numerous non-violent protests. When the government responded with violence in 1960, the ANC's strategy became more drastic, leading just a few years later to the arrest of several ANC leaders, including Mandela. Mandela spent 27 years in prison, more than half of which he served at Robben Island under very basic conditions that involved hard labor and virtually no contact with the outside world.

Following growing international pressure, the South African government finally released Mandela from prison in 1990. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, and a year later became South Africa's President in the country's first multiracial election. As an abridged version of Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom makes these incredible events accessible to younger readers in an engaging and interesting way. The book's publication coincides nicely with the United Nation's announcement of Mandela Day and the movie industry's release of a major motion picture about Mandela.

Review by:
 Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children 

How to Get This Book

Title:  Sparrow Girl
Author: Sara Pennypacker
Illustrator: Yoko Tanaka
Publisher:  Disney - Hyperion Books
ISBN:  978-142311187-0
Year:  2009

Concepts:  economic role of government, natural resources, famine, scarcity

Review:  In 1958, Chairman Mao Tse-Tung’s initiated the Great Sparrow Campaign, a massive effort to eliminate all of China’s sparrows, which he blamed for eating too many grain seeds and causing hardship for China’s farmers.  He ordered all the peasant to bang pots and pans and to have noise parades to frighten the birds away.              

The decision saddened and frightened Ming-Li, a young girl living in the country-side, who liked sparrows and wondered about the consequences of the decision and if there was another way to save the crops.  Her fears proved fully grounded.  Sparrows not only ate grain, they also ate locusts and worms, and the decimation of the sparrow population contributed to an enormous growth of locusts and the start of China’s terrible famine. Ming-Li was too young and small to stop these major events, but her love of sparrows did lead to a powerful action that would bring hope to her village and new-found respect from her father. 


Readers of all ages will appreciate Sparrow Girl for its informative account of an important event in China’s Great Leap Forward and its lesson about the dangers of upsetting the environment’s ecological balance.  The rich illustrations make this work of historical fiction all the more memorable.

Review by:  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Rumpelstiltskin's Daughter
Author and Illustrator:  Diane Stanley
Publisher: Morrow Junior
ISBN:  0-688-14328-8
Year: 1997
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 4.3

Concepts:  Role of government, scarcity, human resources, natural resources

  Rumpelstiltskin's daughter may not be able to spin straw into gold, but she is more than a match for a monarch whose greed has blighted an entire kingdom.

Source of Summary:  Publisher