37 pages • 1 hour readGary Paulsen
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Lawn Boy, a novella by Gary Paulsen published in 2007, is a middle grade chapter book about a 12-year-old boy who receives an old lawn mower as a birthday gift from his grandmother. As underwhelming as the gift appears, this moment launches a sequence of events that ends with the boy owning $480,000 and being the sole investor of a heavyweight boxer. Full of quirky humor and digestible lessons in capitalism, Paulsen’s story leads the protagonist from rags to riches and teaches him the values of community and responsibility.
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The unnamed 12-year-old protagonist’s family background includes Mom (a teacher at an experimental school), Dad (a freelance inventor), and Grandma, who proves wise despite her erratic logic. They don’t have a lot of money, but they are a happy family nonetheless. Immediately after the boy receives a lawn mower as a birthday gift from Grandma, a neighbor offers him a job mowing his lawn. As the boy rapidly accumulates more jobs, he discovers that the owner of the community-established mowing business has run off with a customer’s wife, subsequently losing his clients’ trust. Considered less threatening because of his age, the boy accidentally taps a wide-open market.
The boy meets Arnold Howell, a stockbroker who looks like he stepped fresh out of the 1970s. Arnold offers the boy a job, but because he can’t pay in cash, he instead proposes to invest his payment in stocks. The boy doesn’t understand what this means, so Arnold explains the basics of investing.
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The boy’s mowing business rapidly accumulates more customers than the boy can handle alone. Arnold introduces him to Pasqual, who does yard work after dark and knows other available workers. Pasqual agrees to give the boy 50% of their earnings, much to the boy’s bewilderment.
When the summer has its first heavy rainfall, the mowers take the day off and the boy bikes to Arnold’s house. Arnold explains the boy’s account details—filed under Arnold’s name because the boy is a minor—and reveals that the share values of two companies he owns jumped, meaning that the boy’s initial $40 investment is now worth $50,000. Arnold also invested in a sports stock for fun and accidentally bought full sponsorship of a local heavyweight boxer named Joseph Powdermilk Jr., who later nicknames himself Joey Pow. Joey arrives a few minutes later to introduce himself and thank his sponsor for the support. Pasqual interrupts the meeting to report that a gang led by a man named Rock is harassing the boy’s employees for money. When they arrive at Pasqual’s house, Joey handles the situation with physical force, showcasing his competence as a fighter. Rock and his men flee the house.
That evening, the boy attempts to tell his parents about his business developments. The boy loses his nerve, and when he sees Joey parked outside his house like a bodyguard, he misses the opportunity. While mowing a lawn the next day, he answers a panicked call from Arnold, who orders him to go home before the call abruptly cuts off. Instead of going home, the boy races to Arnold’s house where he sees Rock inside through the window. The boy decides he needs his parents’ help and runs home. The boy’s family combines forces to find Joey’s contact information and call him. Joey and the boy’s family drive to Arnold’s house, and Joey once again easily overpowers Rock and his men. The men flee one final time, and the boy’s family frees Arnold.
Joey effortlessly wins his first boxing match, and the boy—as Joey’s sponsor—receives 50% of the purse. The next day, a call from Arnold reveals that due to a glitch in the system, the boy’s shares never actually sold. Over the past week the shares’ value soared again—the boy now has $480,000.
By Gary Paulsen