Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

Top Five Books on Opportunity Cost

Click on the title for each book to see book cover and more details.


Title:  To the Big Top
Author:  Jill Esbaum
Illustrator:  David Gordon
Publisher:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN:  0-374-39934-4
Year:  2008
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 3.1

Concepts:  jobs, scarcity, opportunity cost, choice, exchange.

Review:  Sam and Benny wake up before dawn to greet the circus train at the rail yard, and they eagerly anticipate a day of excitement with circus events.  The boys help the workers set up for the show, they watch the parade from atop a tree, and they take in the sights and smells during their walk down the midway. A near mishap with a lost ticket almost costs them the opportunity to enjoy the main event, but some smart thinking prevents this disappointment.

While the circus theme is no stranger to children’s literature, this book stands out for the economics lessons that are carefully woven throughout the tale.  An author’s note conveys the importance of the circus as a source of amusement during a time period with fewer options for entertainment, and as a source of jobs for hundreds of employees in a variety of occupations.  Also incorporated into the story are the ideas of scarcity (Sam and Benny have no money but they are rewarded for their volunteer work with two nickels and two tickets), choice (they need to decide how to spend their precious nickels on the many food and entertainment options in the midway), and exchange (they make a trade in order to get back the missing ticket).  This clever book is no ordinary circus tale.

Review by:  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

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Mama Is a Miner
Author: George Ella Lyon
Illustrator:  Peter Catalanotto
Publisher: Orchard Books
ISBN: 0-531-06853-6
Year: 1994
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 3.1

Concepts: production, resources, opportunity cost

Summary: A mother describes her job working as a miner.

Source: Publisher

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Title: Clever Cat
Author and Illustrator: Peter Collington
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 0-375-80477-3
Year: 2000
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  3.1

Concepts: money, job, opportunity cost

Summary: When Mr. and Mrs. Ford discover that Tibbs the cat can get his own food they give him a house key and a credit card, but when they make him get a job, do the shopping, and pay rent, he begins to wonder if he is really that clever after all.

Source of Summary: Publisher

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The Great Kapok Tree
Author and Illustrator: Lynne Cherry
Publisher: Harcourt Brace & Co.
ISBN: 0-15-200520-X
Year: 1990
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 3.8

Concepts: natural resources, opportunity cost, externalities

Summary: The many different animals that live in a great kapok tree in the Brazilian rainforest try to convince a man with an ax of the importance of not cutting down their home.

Source of Summary: Publisher

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Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday
Author: Judith Viorst
Illustrator:  Ray Cruz
Publisher: Atheneum
ISBN: 0-689-71199-9
Year: 1978
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 3.4

Concepts: wants, saving, opportunity cost, scarcity

Summary: Alexander and his money are quickly parted yet he realizes there are many things a dollar can do.

Source of Summary: Publisher

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