Lunch Money, a novel by Andrew Clements (2005), is a realistic story about an ordinary child making extraordinary achievements. The story illustrates how a hardworking boy can have as much effect on the world as any adult—even when adults try to stand in his way.
Someday Greg Kenton is going to be rich. He has a talent for money, and he has worked hard at earning money since he was in preschool. First he makes money doing household chores and recycling. Later he branches out into several pursuits around his neighborhood, such as lawn mowing, snow shoveling, and dog walking. Greg loves just having money but he also likes spending it, once in a while, on special possessions.
Because Greg is so good with money, he acts as a banker for his family. He lends money to his parents for free as long as they pay it back. If his older brothers, Ross and Edward, want money, they have to return it with interest. The older boys make fun of Greg for this, but it does not stop them from using “the First Family Bank of Greg.”
Shortly after Greg finishes fourth grade, his dad finds some of Greg’s money hidden in a book. The two of them have a talk, and Greg agrees to put his money in the bank where it will be safe and grow by earning interest. When Greg adds up all his money, his dad is shocked to learn he has over three thousand dollars.
One day in fifth grade, Greg forgets his lunch. A school lunch costs two dollars, and Greg only has a dollar fifty with him. He asks his teacher, Mrs. McCormick, if he can borrow fifty cents. Mrs. McCormick says no, but she asks the class if anyone can lend Greg the money. More than half of the kids have two quarters to spare. After Greg borrows the fifty cents he needs, he goes to lunch thinking about how much he likes quarters. Then he realizes half the kids in his school seem to have a quarter or two to spare. He does the math in his head and concludes that hundreds of dollars of extra money come into his school every week.
The next day, Greg starts selling candy and gum. He makes good money, but he knows kids take it into their classrooms, which is against the rules. He does not want to get in trouble, so he switches to selling toys. With his mom’s permission, he uses her credit card to buy some toys on the Internet. He sells them quickly, then turns around and buys more. The second batch does not sell as fast because the kids get tired of the toys. Also, the principal tells Greg he cannot continue his business because his toys distract kids at school. Instead of getting discouraged, Greg decides to sell something teachers like: books.
By the beginning of sixth grade, Greg has written, illustrated, printed, and begun selling his first comic book, Creon: Return of the Hunter. It is the first book in several series of stories he has planned. He calls his books Chunky Comics because his books are short and sturdy. It took him a lot of effort to make the first one, and he is proud of it. More importantly, he is sure it is a good business plan. Although it is time consuming to create books, there is little cost involved. Each twenty-five-cent book makes him twenty-three cents of profit.
He is doing well until his neighbor, Maura Shaw, begins making books too. Greg has never liked Maura, who has been his rival since they were toddlers. She copies what Greg does, and she is usually just as good at it—or better. In the past, she has taken Greg’s business ideas and managed to take his customers by selling at a lower cost. Once she also came up with an idea of her own, making and selling potholders.
Maura obviously stole the comic book idea from Greg, but that will not matter to customers. Her book, The Lost Unicorn, is good, and Greg knows people will buy it. In math class, he confronts Maura and shouts at her; Maura shouts right back. Greg calls Maura a thief, and Maura calls Greg a money-grubber. Overcome, Greg begins to tear up a copy of her book. Maura freaks out and tries to grab it back. In the process, she hits Greg in the face, giving him a bloody nose.
Mr. Z, the sixth-grade math teacher, likes to keep a peaceful classroom environment. He is unable to take control during the argument, however, because he gets faint at the sight of blood. Maura takes Greg to the nurse’s office, where Greg tells the nurse his injury was an accident. When Maura leaves, he looks carefully at her book. He does not like the unicorn story, but he thinks her writing and drawings are good. He looks closer and realizes the drawings are original—it is no wonder she got so upset when he tore the book.
That afternoon, Greg and Maura have to go see Mr. Z to talk about what happened in class. He is late to meet them, and they begrudgingly start a conversation about their books. Maura has just bought a copy of Return of the Hunter, so Greg presses for her opinion. She says she likes it, but she points out that it is a boy story. She tells Greg he should also publish stories that appeal to girls.
When Mr. Z arrives, he listens to both sides of the kids’ argument. He says that Greg was wrong to be angry with Maura because ideas cannot belong to anyone. When Mr. Z tries to make Greg apologize, Greg gets angry. This makes his nosebleed start again, and Mr. Z goes faint. Greg is so mad he taunts Mr. Z’s weakness. Maura takes charge, making Greg stop and getting them both to lie down while she gets the nurse.
On the floor of Mr. Z’s classroom, Greg apologizes for taunting Mr. Z about his phobia. Mr. Z accepts the apology and asks if Greg wants to say he is sorry for anything else. Greg says no, and Mr. Z explains his theory that Greg and Maura do not get along because they are too much alike. He also suggests that Maura likes Greg and that Greg should feel complimented that she liked his book idea enough to want to copy it.
That night, Maura calls Greg to give him the math assignment he missed while he was at the nurse’s office. The next day, she gives him a note saying she loves comic books now. She shows him a book about comics and some scenes from her story, which she has redrawn in comic...
(The entire section is 2525 words.)