On the heels of our stock market unit we decided to do a novel study with group of four. One of the mums found the perfect book which just happens to be funny, appropriate for the 8-12 year old age group, appealing to boys and girls, not too long and related to the stock market.
Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen is about a twelve year old boy facing a long summer with little money and no firm plans. His grandmother, an unusual woman, gives him her late husband’s ride-on lawn mower. Understandably Lawn Boy is a little bemused by his grandma’s gift but investigates the machine only to find that, despite its age, it works fine. He sets off down the street on his birthday gift and within minutes has the beginnings of a summer job.
He finds out, as he picks up client after client, that the previous lawn cutter was involved in a neighbourhood scandal so there is plenty of work for him. One of his first clients, Arnold, offers him an unusual deal, promising to pay him in shares, not cash. He tells Lawn Boy he will buy shares for him and then sell and re-invest in whatever companies look promising. Lawn Boy agrees, deciding that all he has to lose is the $40 fee.
The business grows beyond what Lawn Boy can handle and Arnold comes to his aid with suggestions and a partner. Lawn Boy’s business and his stock portfolio grow without his parents’ knowledge. There are encounters with a prize fighter and a local thug, also without his parents’ knowledge. As Lawn Boy’s circumstances become more and more complicated he tries to explain them to his parents, but it is only when someone’s life is in danger that he finally spills the whole story!
All the children in Group of Four enjoyed the book and wanted to know why they couldn’t make money in the same amounts that Lawn Boy was raking it in. We did some predicting along the way, but no-one even came close to guessing all the twists and turns. Each child took a chapter and converted it into a comic strip page, picking out the main events of the chapter and reading through the descriptions before drawing. As most of the group are willing to act whenever given the chance, we gave out a couple of scripts taken directly from the book with narration removed.
Both weeks of the novel study we started with a story building activity, where the story was started by one child and then passed on to the next who took it wherever they liked and so on around the circle. The first time we did it with no parameters and the second week the characters and setting were given. The story made much more sense the second week, but was not as funny! To make the most of the children’s enthusiasm for making money we asked them all to think of a job they could do in their own community and make posters advertising their services. We’ll see if anything comes of their ideas.
In past novel studies we have given the children an open-ended creative project to complete over a couple of weeks, then present to the group at the end of the unit. I am always impressed with the variety and quality of the projects. This time was no different. One of the girls decorated a t-shirt with the word “POW” on the front and “Pinch your head” on the back! (You will need to read the book to find out why) Another made a movie with playmobil people playing the characters. B8 made a lego model of Lawn Boy on his mower halfway around the yard of a lego house. There was also a poster and a very detailed 3D bookmark.
I am always on the lookout for new authors, so this introduction to Gary Paulsen has been great. Paulsen has written a great many books for children, often with boys as the main character. I’m sure we will be reading more.