Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

Top Five Books on Scarcity

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


Cloud Tea Monkeys
Author:  Mal Peet & Elspeth Graham
Illustrator:  Juan Wijngaard
Publisher: Candlewick Press
ISBN: 978-0-7636-4453-6
Year: 2010

Concepts: human resources, natural resources, child labor, poverty, jobs, economic development

Review:  Tashi lives with her mother, a tea picker, in a small village that lies in the shadows of the majestic Himalaya mountains.  Tashi’s mother and the other women work long days on the tea plantation, ever under the watchful eyes of the bad-tempered Overseer. Although Tashi comes along, she is too young to pick tea and instead spends much of the time playing and snoozing in the shade with a group of friendly monkeys that regularly comes down from the mountain.

When her mother becomes gravely sick and cannot work, Tashi despairs that there is no money to pay for a doctor.  Determined to earn the money herself, she manages to carry the heavy tea basket to the plantation, only to encounter the angry Overseer who mocks her attempt to pick tea.  Even worse, after she retreats to her private spot in the shade, some of the adult monkeys grab the basket and run off with it toward the mountain.  Although all seems lost, Tashi learns that small acts of kindness can be reciprocated in unusual and unexpected ways.

This book is absolutely superb. The unique story line captures a number of important themes in economics, including the vulnerability of the working poor and the incidence of child labor in developing countries.  Stunning illustrations further add to the richness of Cloud Tea Monkeys, making this book as much of a treasure as the tea described within.

Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children 

How to Get This Book

  Those Shoes
Author:  Maribeth Boelts
Illustrator:  Noah Z. Jones
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
ISBN:  978-0-7637-2499-6
Year:  2007

Concepts:  wants and needs, scarcity

  Just about every boy at school seemed to be wearing those black high-tops with two white stripes, and Jeremy wanted a pair also.  Unfortunately Grandma remained firm about only paying for needs, not wants, and Jeremy needed a new pair of winter boots.  To add insult to injury, when one of Jeremy’s shoes fell apart at school, the only replacement available from the guidance counselor’s supply box was a pair of children’s Velcro sneakers with a cartoon animal on the side.  Even Jeremy’s idea of buying his dream high-tops at a local thrift shop backfired when the one pair in stock fit so poorly that they hurt his feet.  Little did Jeremy realize that those thrift-store high-tops held the key to a deeper understanding of generosity and friendship.

This clever book contains a powerful lesson about differentiating between wants and needs in the face of tight budget constraints. At the same time, the subtle text and expressive illustrations communicate clearly a child’s desire to conform.  At a time when expensive shoes have become a high-status consumption good, Those Shoes comes out a winner for telling an appealing story to which readers across age groups can relate. 

Review by:
  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Mia's Story: A Sketchbook of Hopes & Dreams
Author and Illustrator: Michael Foreman
Publisher: Candlewick Press
ISBN: 0-7636-3063-2
Year: 2006
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  3.4

Concepts: markets, scarcity, poverty

  Mia and her parents had very little in the way of material goods.  How could they, when they lived among the most vulnerable of the poor in a garbage dump.  The village used to be nestled on farmland, but as city sprawl crowded out their land, the villagers had to forsake farming for picking trash.  Papa made a little money selling scrap metal in the city, and Mia could at least still attend school, albeit in a small structure at the dump made of recycled materials.  

They found inspiration in their community and in their dreams.  Mia also found great joy in a small stray puppy that Papa brought home from the city. When her sweet dog disappeared one winter’s day, Mia traveled high up into the mountains to search for him.  Little did she realize that the beautiful white flowers that she found on the mountain held the key to improved well-being and economic empowerment.

This book is truly remarkable. With an unpredictable plot and stunning illustrations, each turn of the page contributes to a growing sense of awe, surprise, and hope.  Thoroughly ingrained in the poignant story are vital lessons about poverty, economic development, and markets. Parents and teachers seeking rare gems among children’s books will surely find Mia’s Story of immense value for teaching about the power of small miracles and big dreams.

Review by:
 Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Title:  Four Feet, Two Sandals
Author:  Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed
Illustrator:  Doug Chayka
Publisher:   Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
ISBN:   978-0-8028-5296-0
Year:  2007
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  3.3

Concepts:  scarcity, human resources, wants, needs

Review: Lina and Feroza, two young girls from Afghanistan living in a refugee camp in Pakistan, first meet after a frenzied crowd has jostled for used clothing that relief workers threw off the back of a truck. What could have been a misfortune, with each girl retrieving one sandal from a matching pair, turns out to be a stroke of luck as the girls take turns with the sandals and become friends. This friendship helps them to endure the hardships of their daily routines collecting water, washing clothes in the river, mourning lost family members, and caring for younger siblings while boys in the camp attend school.  The sandals later take on a symbolic role when one of the girls leaves camp for a new home.  

This moving book provides an effective tool for teaching about what it means to be a refugee, how children in refugee camps spend their time, and how the experiences can differ for girls and boys.  Although the topic may be weighty and difficult, the tone is relatively subtle and hopeful so as to appeal to young readers. Intertwined with the touching story are valuable economics lessons about scarcity, human resources, wants, and needs. The dramatic artwork and compelling text work well together to make reading this book a memorable experience.

Review by:
  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children 

How to Get This Book

Title: The Hard-Times Jar
Author:  Ethel Footman Smothers
Illustrator: John Holyfield

Publisher:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN:  0-374-32852–8
Year: 2003
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  3.8

Concepts: migrant workers, child schooling, child work, scarcity, resources

Summary:  Emma, the daughter of poor migrant workers, longs to own a real book, and when she turns eight and must attend school for the first time, she is amazed to discover a whole library in her classroom.

Source of Summary: Publisher