When Books Spur Action

Josie Leavitt - August 17, 2016

I had a very hard time learning how to read. I struggled with decoding words and found myself yearning to be able to read a book the way my friends did. After a year with a reading teacher, I finally figured it out and could read somewhat easily. The struggle with reading meant that first real chapter books I read have really stayed with me. Among those books was The Great Brain, with its old-timey feel of two brothers who are up to no good. 
I grew up in Long Island, N.Y., and attended a Quaker school, and my life couldn’t have been farther greatbrainfrom that of the lives of Tom and JD and their school in Utah. I loved these books deeply. I so thoroughly enjoyed the mayhem that Tom brought to school with his escapades and schemes. I was not a scheming kind of child, so their exploits thrilled me. My friends and I read the whole series and chatted about what exploits we thought we could pull off in our school. The answer, of course, was none, but that didn’t stop us from planning what we might do.
This is a book series that I love to recommend to my customers. Kids enjoy the series today, just as I did back in the early 70s. It never occurred to me that a kid, a Vermont kid, no less, would embrace the deviousness of the kids in the book.
A mom recently shared with me that her son loved these books. She was delighted that he had caught fire reading, just as I did, with these books. Then she started chuckling. There was a wry smile on her face when she said, “It never occurred to me that these books would be business books.” I asked her to clarify what she was talking about. It seems her son had been totally inspired by the books to start his own lawn-mowing business. A very admirable thing for an 11-year-old to do. He went to all the neighbors and get them to sign up for his services. His mom was understandably proud when he shared this with her.
Then the money started coming in. Not just some money, but heaps of it. The mom asked her son how it was he was making so much when it seemed to her that he was home a lot reading and couldn’t possibly have mowed all the lawns in the neighborhood. Well, the son, inspired by none other than the Great Brain himself, had outsourced 90% of the mowing to his friends. He gave them $5 a lawn and he kept the other $15 himself as the “broker’s fee.”
I so love that a new generation of readers is embracing this great series in a uniquely 21st century way.

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