Try Harry Potter to teach about money and economics

10/22/2012 10:47 PM

05/16/2014 8:02 PM

More so than most college educators, Lynne Stover knows how children’s literature can be put to use teaching valuable lessons about money and economics.

Stover has spent much of her 35 years in classrooms exploring her two core passions — economic education and children’s literature. Over time, she’s compiled an extensive list of accomplishments as an expert in her field — and she’s reviewed an impressive list of books that teach elementary age children up through high school about saving money, setting goals, working hard, and dealing with hard times.

Her recommended titles range from the blockbuster Harry Potter books to hidden gems such as Uncle Jed’s Barbershop.

“Even picture books can teach lessons,” said Stover, a teaching consultant at James Madison University’s Economic Education Center in Virginia.

Stover was recently in Kansas City to speak at a workshop for teachers during the national conference of the Council for Economic Education.

I sat in on her program on “The Not-So Great Depression: Using children’s literature to teach economic concepts.” She picked out four children’s books to illustrate how youngsters can learn about the Great Depression and relate it to today’s world.

Check out her picks:

•  “Potato: A Tale of the Great Depression.” Set in Kansas, this story by Kate Lied focuses on eight-year-old Dorothy who sets off for Idaho with her family in a borrowed car after her father had lost his job. Arriving in Idaho, they work day and night picking the potatoes that will help them survive the depression. In its own way, the story teaches children about the concepts of bartering and trading and getting by with little money.

“The book’s comforting, even though it talks about horrific things,” Stover said. “It’s quite possible there are children who are going through this now.”

•  “Uncle Jed’s Barbershop.” This is a tale about perseverance. The story, by Margaree King Mitchell, chronicles life in the segregated South, and how Uncle Jed deals with the heartbreak of losing hard-earned money when the banks failed. Finally, at age 79, Uncle Jed saves enough to reach his goal of opening a barbershop.

•  “Lucky Beans.” It’s the 1930’s, and times are tough in the Loman household. Author Becky Birtha chronicles how young Marshall helps his family earn much-needed income. At the end of the book, there’s a one-page explanation of the Great Depression that’s geared to youngsters.

•  “Bud, Not Buddy.” Christopher Paul Curtis writes about foster child Bud Caldwell, who runs away from his home in search of his father. During the depths of the depression, Bud spends time in a soup kitchen and a Hooverville campsite.

And what about J.K. Rowling’s enduring Harry Potter books? The economic tie-ins are easy to make, said Stover. First, there’s wizard world money, then a goblin-controlled bank, and even a joke shop called Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. Need I say more.

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