Lunch Money

by Andrew Clements (2005)

Lunch Money is another Andrew Clements special and the second title offered by Read to Them, following the popular Frindle.

Students love being placed in their own world – the world of school and peers and teachers and parents. And kids believe it when those students are not always nice to each other. A little bickering realism makes kids trust the author and become more invested in his story. Andrew Clements always moves things briskly. His characters are wise and enterprising, sweet and vulnerable. Students respect them, want to be like them, and empathize with them.

In Lunch Money, we meet Greg Kenton, serial entrepreneur. Everything is going his way, until he meets his match in the person of Maura Shaw, who seems to be aping his style and methods.

Eventually Greg and Maura compete for sales with their dueling comic books. But Clements never lets the story or its theme hold still. Students and families will learn about how to make money as a youth and how to make and sell home-made comics. Greg and Maura have to navigate the world of worrying adults, some of whom look warily upon money scheming students. After the intervention of a wise, well-meaning teacher – which is by turns funny and frustrating and touching – Greg must manage his complicated feelings for Maura. His envy and frustration turn into something much more complicated, touching, and moving.

Ultimately Lunch Money becomes a morality tale for a complicated and fraught topic, one perfect for students ready to learn a little more about the imminent real world. What does it mean to be greedy? What are the limits of entrepreneurship? Is it bad or good to constantly scheme to make money? It’s the American Way, and yet some aspects might make some of us uncomfortable. Should there be any restrictions on Greg’s (and Maura’s) entrepreneurial projects?

Clements fills his novel with a full range of topics and themes, characters and scenarios that will captivate students and stimulate families, sparking a hearty range of discussion. Clements writes clear, bright prose and dialogue, giving families and schools some big picture questions to think about, ones your students will surely think and talk about beyond elementary school.

Which makes Lunch Money a keeper. A book that will not only entertain and stimulate your elementary school families and communities for a fun, rich month, but also a book that will have legs. Your students may just cite the lessons they learned from reading and thinking about and talking about Lunch Money…in high school and college. And with their own kids. (And that’s how we spread the culture of literacy.)

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