Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

EconKids Home Top 5 Books by Concept Child Schooling and Work

Top Five Books on Child Schooling and Work

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Title: Dancing to Freedom: The True Story of Mao's Last Dancer
Author:  Li Cunxin
Illustrator: Anne Spudvilas
Publisher: Walker & Co.
ISBN: 978-0-8027-9777-3
Year: 2008

Concepts:  poverty, child schooling and work, careers

Review: During China’s Cultural Revolution, a young boy named Li Cunxin endured extreme hunger, bitter cold, and a tiny bare living space that he shared with six brothers and his parents. They survived while countless others did not.  Yet Li dreamed his life would differ from that of the fabled little frog who could not get out of the deep, dark well in which he lived.

An extraordinary and completely unexpected opportunity to live a better life came Li’s way when a small delegation visited his school searching for children with potential to become ballet dancers. They chose Li, and at the age of eleven he left his family to study ballet at the Beijing Dance Academy. Although he missed his family terribly, years of rigorous training led him to become one of China’s best dancers, which in turn generated an invitation to study ballet in the United States. Li had managed to escape from the dark well, but he did not know for a long time if he would see his family again.

This beautifully-crafted children’s book, which Li Cunxin adapted from his adult memoir, offers a gripping portrayal of life during the Cultural Revolution and a moving depiction of his progression to adulthood and fame. To bolster the realism, the illustrator traveled with Li to China to visit his old village and the dance academy, and she trained in traditional Chinese painting techniques. Dancing to Freedom makes a valuable addition to any collection of children’s books that rank highly on artistic merit and substantive content.

Review by:  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Title:  Running Shoes
Author:  Frederick Lipp
Illustrator:  Jason Gaillard
Publisher:  Charlesbridge
ISBN:  978-1-58089-176-9
Year: 2008 (U.S. edition) 
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 3.2

Concepts:  human resources, child schooling, scarcity, discrimination

  Sophy, a young girl living in a remote low-income village in Cambodia, faced a number of obstacles that prevented her from going to school.  Only boys attended the closest school, which was eight kilometers away, and the recent death of her father dealt a large personal and economic blow.  However, one day a government census worker, who visited the village once a year, noticed Sophy staring at his running shoes and took an interest in her situation.  The running shoes that arrived at Sophy’s home a month later helped her to overcome one obstacle – the long trip by foot on a narrow, rocky road – to get to school.  Her courage, bright mind, and quick feet helped to overcome an even bigger problem, namely the ridicule from the boys that a girl wanted to join them at school.

This unique book provides readers with a compelling account of the multiple barriers that prevent some children in less developed countries, especially girls, from attending school.  Getting past such hurdles can involve multiple steps, including a change in parents’ willingness and ability to send a child to school, relaxing social norms about who can attend school, and improving school access for children in remote villages. Running Shoes carefully touches on each of these issues in an inspiring story that will appeal to children and adults alike.

Review by:
 Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Title:  Armando and the Blue Tarp School
Author:  Edith Hope Fine and Judith Pinkerton Josephson
Illustrator:  Hernan Sosa
Publisher:  Lee & Low Books
ISBN:  978-1-58430-278-0
Year:  2007
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  4.9

Concepts:  poverty, scarcity, human resources, child schooling, child work

Review:  Based on the true story of a former special education teacher who started a school for child trash-pickers in the Tijuana city dump in Mexico, this moving and informative book teaches a number of valuable economics lessons related to poverty, child labor, opportunity cost, and education.  The authors do an excellent job communicating the difficult living conditions of the most vulnerable of the poor–children who work rather than go to school and live in shacks alongside the dump. They support their families by picking through trash looking for bottles, cans, clothes, and toys to sell and to use.  Not only are the immediate conditions miserable, with the foul smell, heat, noise, and flies, but the longer term prospects of growing up without an education are bleak as well.  

Armando, the main character is this book, is one of these children.  Yet hope for a different kind of future marches into his life when his parents give him permission to attend a school at the dump that was recently started by Señor David. Armando understands that the decision is not an easy one for his parents, who depend on his income from picking trash.  The school consists of little more than a blue tarp spread on the ground and a chalkboard, but it has a teacher and a group of students eager to learn how to read, write, draw, and do math.  Armando’s talents with drawing later help to turn new adversity into good fortune for his school.

This book makes a tremendous addition to any collection of children’s literature that focuses on high quality content.  With its developing country setting and the story of the real Señor David Lynch at the back, the book is as realistic as it is inspiring.

Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Title:  Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg & Three Cups of Tea
Author: Greg Mortenson and Susan L. Roth
Illustrator: Susan L. Roth
Publisher:  Dial Books for Young Readers
ISBN:  978-0-8037-3058-8
Year:  2009

Concepts:  poverty, scarcity, economic development, child schooling

Review: After failing to reach the summit of Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, Greg Mortensen stumbled into the remote village of Korphe.  Mortensen, a nurse by training, badly needed nursing himself, and the villagers obliged with kindness and grace. What started as a desire to reciprocate with an act of generosity has led, over time, to Mortensen raising money and building close to eighty schools in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The first school was in Korphe, a village so poor that children hitherto had no full-time teacher and had to scratch their lessons outside on the ground with sticks.

Greg Mortenson’s story of despair turned into altruism is well known to adults through his bestseller Three Cups of Tea, and now Listen to the Wind brings this remarkable tale to the eyes and ears of younger children.  Susan L. Roth’s compelling and bold collages, constructed with recycled materials from Pakistani artifacts, add to the uniqueness of the book and the message it sends.

Review by:  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Josias, Hold the Book
Author:  Jennifer Riesmeyer Elvgren
Illustrator: Nicole Tadgell
Publisher: Boyds Mills Press
ISBN: 1-59078-318-2
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  3.3

Concepts: child schooling, child work, human and natural resources, poverty, scarcity

  Each day Chrislove asks his friend Josias when he will "hold the book," or join them at school, but Josias can only think of tending the bean garden so that his family will have enough food.

Source of Summary: Publisher