The best parenting advice I ever received was to read to my children. Rather than going to a pricey bookstore, I made twice weekly trips to our local library. The girls could check out as many books as they’d like without paying a dime — of course, on the condition that they return them on time. Then, each night we would sit down after dinner and I would read aloud. It was a family affair and it would prompt a discussion about a variety of topics. Here are my favorite books on money for younger children.
Start with my favorite family, the Berenstain Bears. In The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble with Money, by Jan and Stan Berenstain (Random House 1983), you and your child will see what happens when Brother and Sister Bear spend all the money they get as soon as they get it. Mama and Papa Bear help the cubs understand that there is more to know about money than just how to spend it.
In The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies, also by Jan and Stan Berenstain (Random House, 1988), Mama and Papa help the cubs and themselves when they come up with a creative way to stop all of the begging Brother and Sister do each time they go to the store — by giving the cubs each a small sum to spend.
In The Berenstain Bears’ Dollars and Sense, once again by Jan and Stan Berenstain (Random House, 2001), Mama Bear makes the abstract concept of allowance concrete by making the cubs use a checkbook to keep track of the allowance money they receive and how they spend that money each week. This book has taken it on the chin by reviewers uncomfortable with the suggestion that kids use “checks” to learn. I, however, like it because Mama Bear makes the cubs stop, think, choose and reflect about their money decisions.
The Penny Pot by Stuart J. Murphy (HarperTrophy, 1998), portrays a girl named Jessie who realizes too late that the ice cream cone she just bought means she won’t have enough money to get her face painted at the school fair. The face painter offers a creative solution: She suggests Jessie ask people to donate extra pennies to her penny pot. Jessie and the reader learn about the value of coins as Jessie gets closer to her goal of collecting 50 cents, enough to get her face painted to look like a cat.
Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday, by Judith Viorst (Atheneum, 1978), is a great way to teach your children about the many choices they have for the money they receive. Everyone feels Alexander’s pain when his money begins to slip away. How the Second Grade Got $8,205.50 to Visit the Statue of Liberty, by Nathan Zimelman (Albert Whitman & Co., 1992), helps children to understand the work involved in earning money.
To help your child think about others when setting goals, try one of my very favorite books, A Chair for My Mother, by Vera B. Williams (HarperCollins, 1982). After a fire destroys everything they have, a mother, daughter and grandmother save coins in a jar to buy the family a much-needed easy chair.
My Rows and Piles of Coins, by Tololwa M. Mollel (Clarion Books, 1999), tells the story of a young boy who is saving his money to buy a bicycle so he can help his mother carry food to the marketplace. And be sure to read that wonderfully enduring classic, The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein (HarperCollins, 1964). This story is a portrayal of giving and taking until it seems that there is no more to give. This is one of those unusual books that teaches both adults and children alike the life lesson necessary for our pursuit of money.
Earning money to fix their clubhouse is the goal in Lemonade for Sale by Stuart J. Murphy (HarperTrophy, 1997). The kids learn a great lesson about the cost of starting a business as well as what to do when competition gets in the way of the growth of their business.
Wondering how to introduce the magnificence of compound savings to your child? Well, in One Grain of Rice, A Mathematical Folktale by Demi (Scholastic Press, 1997), a village girl in India named Rani outsmarts the leader of her village when she asks as for one grain of rice for her reward, doubled each day for 30 days.
The book, Once Upon a Company by Wendy Anderson Halperin (Scholastic, 1998), tells a true story of a young boy named Joel and his two younger sisters who, in the midst of a boring winter, decide to establish their very own “College Fund Wreath Company.” When their spur-of-the-moment idea quickly becomes a huge success, they must learn to navigate the waters of management.