Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen

Lawn Boy, published on June 20, 2007, is narrated by a twelve-year old boy who was given a lawn mower by his grandmother for his birthday.  The lawn mower belonged to his late grandfather.  “I looked at the mower.  Very old, low, small.  It looked like it only cut about a two-foot-wide area, it was nothing like the new machines.” (Paulsen, 2007, p.5)  The narrator, who remains unnamed, starred at his present and began thinking back to a time when his grandmother was talking about his grandfather saying that he used to be a, “tinkerer”.  He was always puttering with things, taking them apart, putting them back together.  When he was around nothing ever broke.  Nothing ever dared to break.”  The narrator looked at it differently.  So, he sat on it and felt as though he and the mower were connected somehow.  He was determined to get this piece of machinery moving.  Once he got the old mower turned on, which wasn’t easy, it leaped forward and he started mowing the lawn.  Because his family had a small lawn, the job didn’t take long, and he got very good at maneuvering the mower around shrubs and flowers.  While he was in action, a neighbor came to the fence and asked, “How much?” and that is how this young man’s story of learning about Business, Capitalism, Increasing Product Demand, Capital Growth, Labor Acquisition, Portfolio Diversification, and Team Management. His business grew as neighbors (and friends of neighbors) continued to request his lawn mowing services.  However, the time came when he was mowing more lawns than there was daylight.  He needed help.  Thankfully, he met Arnold, a stay-at-home stockbroker.  Arnold looked as though he had just stepped out of the seventies, “…he looked like someone who flunked clown school.” (Paulsen, 2007, p. 17)  Arnold inquired about the narrator’s lawn service, and the narrator learned for the first time about negotiations and bartering.  Arnold made a deal with him where he would invest money in a stock in lieu of giving him cash.  The narrator agreed because he was carrying around too much cash in his pocket already.  The narrator did not like to leave the cash at home because he didn’t want his family to see how much money he made not because he was sneaking, but because he didn’t want his family--who didn’t make that much money--to feel bad that he made so much in so little time.  The narrator and Arnold became business partners.  Arnold helped him find employees in order to meet the needs of his growing lawn business.  Arnold helped him learn about the stock market and split funds, he helped him learn about treating employees with dignity, and he helped him learn the dirty business of dealing with angry competition. 
Fortunately, Arnold also made the narrator a one-hundred-percent interest sponsor in a heavyweight boxer who lived in the same area.  His name was Joseph Powdermilk, Jr., nicknamed for boxing purposes, Joey Pow.  When the Lawn Boy’s (the narrator) business became so lucrative, the competition became restless and dangerous. 
One crucial problem the Lawn Boy kept contemplating throughout the book was that he never told his parents anything regarding his lawn mowing enterprise (the increasing stocks that he owned illegally because he was underage, the ever-growing business that he created with fifteen people working for him, the partnership he had with Arnold, and the boxer he now sponsored).  These secrets became more and more problematic when the competition became restless and things got out of control.  Rock (the competitor) and his workers threatened to harm Arnold if the Lawn Boy didn’t pay him what he wanted.  The Lawn Boy was finally forced to confide in his parents.  He knew his parents would be supportive when he told them.  Although they were shocked, his parents and grandmother knew exactly what to do.  Utilizing a major resource, Joey Pow, they were able to get Arnold out of harms way without getting the police involved. 
The biggest shock came when Arnold told everyone how much money was now sitting in stocks, four
hundred and eighty thousand dollars!  As his father faints (just as Lawn Boy did when he first found out the amount of money he was making from his business and stocks) his grandmother states, “You know, dear, Grandpa always said, take care of your tools and they’ll take care of you.” (Paulsen, 2007, p. 88)

In relation to other books within the Realistic Fiction genre, it is excellent.  It is funny, it is interesting, and it is down-to-earth.  As the reader, you feel that you are thinking for the narrator and trying to come up with ideas to make his venture successful.  You feel for the reader when he has to finally tell his parents and the author has made this character so alike many other twelve-year-old boys that you believe this truly happened to someone.  “Readers will find this madcap story a wise investment of their time.” (  “When it comes to telling funny stories about boys, no one surpasses Paulsen, and here he is in top form.” (John Peters, Amazon)  But, again, this book is so different from the books he received awards for and sits on so many library shelves.

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