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Monday, August 24, 2009

Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen

One grand thing about being a novelist is that you can write a story that goes down the way you’d have liked it to happen to you. Just like Gary Paulsen’s Lawn Boy about a 12- yr. old who starts a lawn mowing business and ends up with 450,000 dollars at the end of the summer.

It’s a slapstick story with a main character who inherits a lawn mower from his deceased grandfather. Just as he fires up the mower and rides off down the street, he is offered a job. Everything escalates non-stop from there. He gets more jobs. Then, a stockbroker who doesn’t have a lot of cash flow himself offers to pay him by making investments for him under his name. These skyrocket like early Microsoft stock. This broker also introduces him to a man that helps him hire an entire crew to take on many lawn jobs. In addition, the broker happens to invest some of his earnings in sponsoring a boxer who comes in handy when mob-types try to force him to fork over part of his business profits. And, of course, alls well that ends well and profitably.

Too bad one little sentence kept this from a perfect safety rating. When the author explains why the main character got so many lawn jobs so quickly, he refers to the incident where the previous lawn mower for the neighborhood ran off with a customer’s wife, an excellent reason to hire a 12 year old who is probably not a threat to the husbands of the neighborhood…. It this supposed to be funny? As far as I can tell, that means that our tweens are either: cynical, too jaded to be shocked, uncritical readers who skip over this, or moral relativists who find adultery ho-hum or laughable. I can’t find any better reasons to stick such an idea into a young tween-oriented book. What a bummer…

SAFETY RATING: 2 Flags

Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Capitalism: 2425
Receiving Foreigners: 2241

11 comments:

Anonymous,  September 9, 2009 at 9:11 AM  

I read the book when my son asked for advice on how to proceed with his summer project. In addition to the adultery issue, I found the aging hippie day trader as problematic. Describing the paying of wages as 'spreading the wealth?' I made sure my son understood why this is wrong. Also, taking the law into one's own hands to defend the use of undocumented workers? What is this book teaching our children about capitalism?

Tween Lit Crit September 9, 2009 at 7:22 PM  

I just skimmed right over that. Good points; thanks for noting them...

Also, Gary Paulsen is considered an excellent children's author, but this adultery theme ruined his book Hatchet as well where it was more explicit and way too much info. for the age group.

Anonymous,  October 8, 2009 at 6:24 PM  

I really like the story it's one of my favorite books. I don't know why some people say that it is bad. Stories are not always true thats the fun of it.

Anonymous,  October 11, 2009 at 11:20 AM  

oh my goodness this book is totally age approiate because unless you point these things out to a child they will skim right over them and not even notice.

Tween Lit Crit October 12, 2009 at 11:54 AM  

As far as the economics issues, I agree it's quite possible many tweens this age would not understand the political/economics issue. Migrant workers: depends on their level of education. Its a good topic for discussion, though.

The joke about the previous lawn man running off with someone's wife and a young boy being less of a threat to the husbands would not get past most tweens.

If you think it age-appropriate for your tween, that's your call. I don't care for it, just as I don't care for a lot of the adult humor that gets a free pass in a lot of children's movies nowadays. Children are quite savvy. My choice is to err on the side of caution.

Tween Lit Crit October 12, 2009 at 12:14 PM  

The overall story is good, and the author is a good writer in general. A story can be good and still convey messages or ideas that not everyone agrees with. That is what I'm saying.

And I'm also saying that it's OK for parents to be on the watch for that. A cultural message we often receive is that there is something wrong with parents when they censor books for their children. I'm rooting for the parents to do so and to not be afraid to set higher standards than the culture they live in.

As children grow to adulthood, they'll have plenty of exposure to lots of adult problems. There is no harm done in maintaining innocence for longer periods. There is plenty of harm done in growing up to fast.

Books can contribute to that as much as indecent movies and such.

Tween Lit Crit October 12, 2009 at 12:18 PM  

that should be, "growing up too fast." Grammar counts.... :)

Anonymous,  April 27, 2010 at 6:11 AM  

I use this book in my middle school math classes to bring to life the economy and the idea of the stock market. Once we are done reading the book we actually play a stock market game with many other schools in our area.

I have never had a student ask me about the adultry issue. It is not a discussion that I feel needs to be brought up and students never even blink an eye as I read that section to them.

I feel that this book is a great way to start a discussion on our economy and what a little bit of hard work can do. I will continue to read this book and Lawn Boy Returns to my students.

Tween Lit Crit April 27, 2010 at 11:25 AM  

I think Lawn Boy has potential to be a teaching tool regarding the economy. It all depends on the depth of knowledge and teaching of the instructor.

As for the adultery... if kids don't blink an eye because in their innocence they don't pick up on it... great. If they don't blink an eye because they are used to absorbing such matter-of-fact behavior in the books/culture...I consider such jaded sophistication a grave loss in childhood.

I feel I would skip that unnecessary part of the book as I read it aloud.

Anonymous,  August 29, 2010 at 1:23 PM  

Im 13. Its a great book . I read it for my summer reading projext for school , And their's nothing wrong with it . It may have a hint of adult humor to it , But its no nearly as bad as some of the stuff childreen say to eachother and do . Its a nice book , Im quit fond of it .
Alexis gabrielle Brinkley .

Tween Lit Crit August 29, 2010 at 10:41 PM  

Great books often do contain controversial parts. I wouldn't rate this as great, but I agree, Paulsen is definitely a talented author.

I still would like to see more adult themes, such as the way he began Hatchet not be included.

That's a call for parents to make. 13, for example, is much older than 9 for adult humor.

You are so right; by today's standards, it's not much. Kids, indeed, talk much worse, and that's in just about every neighborhood/school.

some of us consider that a tragedy and work hard to improve that standard in our children's lives. So if a parent wishes to censor a book, or at least have the knowledge of the content in order to discuss it and offer a counter-point... that's the purpose of this blog... and I commend them.

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