Lunch Money

by Andrew Clements (2005)

Lunch Money is another Andrew Clements special and the second title offered by Read to Them to be recommended for One School, One Book and One District, One Book – 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 their 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 Mara Shaw, who seems to be aping his style and methods.

Eventually Greg and Mara compete for sales with their own 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 distribute home-made comics for sale. They will also 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 then manage his complicated feelings for Mara. His envy and frustration turn into something much more complicated and touching – and moving.

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

Clements fills his novel with a full range of topics and themes, characters and scenarios that captivates students and will stimulate families, sparking and allowing for a hearty range of discussion topics. Clements writes brisk, accessible, stimulating prose and dialogue. And he gives families and schools some big picture questions to think about – ones they 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…)