Children’s books about money are an excellent starting point for financial literacy. Whether they’re board books for toddlers or more elaborate stories for middle graders, they introduce kids to a topic that’s long been considered taboo. Too often, children become adults who never learned about basic money literacy and then make bad financial decisions (case in point: me during a good chunk of my 20s) – or, worse, adults who equate economic status with personal value, and either internalize self-hatred or become dismissive of those less fortunate, depending on where on the financial scale they fall. After all, contrary to what societal narratives want us to believe, hard work isn’t always rewarded with financial security. It is therefore all the more important to equip kids with the knowledge to face the world.
Research conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that 4th and 5th graders with some exposure to financial education demonstrate different attitudes and behaviors towards money. Researchers claim that:
younger students can learn financial topics and that learning is associated with improved attitudes and behaviors which, if sustained, may result in increased financial capability later in life.“Children and Money Teaching Children Money Habits for Life” by S. Danes (2005)
Luckily, there is a wealth of resources and activities for the financial education of children. In the meantime, presenting kids with age-appropriate books about money early on will demystify the topic and begin the process of imparting this necessary knowledge.
One Cent, Two Cents, Old Cent, New Cent: All About Money by Bonnie Worth
If you’re not sure how to begin teaching your child about money, the Cat in the Hat comes to the rescue! Starting from the ancient practice of bartering, the Cat explains various forms of money used throughout history – even before it was called “money”. Ages 4–8.
My Rows and Piles of Coins by Tololwa M. Mollel and E.B. Lewis
Saruni has his heart set on a red and blue bike. To buy it, he saves his treasured coins, only to find out that his savings are not quite enough. Set in Tanzania, this heartwarming tale will teach about money, yes, but also about generosity and determination. Ages 5–10.
Amelia Bedelia Means Business by Herman Parish and Lynne Avril
Inspired by her classmate’s shiny new bike, Amelia Bedelia wants a brand new bike of her own. Her parents, hoping to instill a sense of responsibility, tell her she can have one when she saves half the money for it. So Amelia sets out to get a job. What could go wrong? If you’ve read any other book in this series, you know the answer is…oh, just about everything. Ages 6–10.
Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly
Apple feels that she can’t please anyone. Having arrived at the U.S. from the Philippines when she was a little girl, she’s not American enough for her peers, but too American for her mother. Things go from bad to worse when she becomes the target of a group of bullies, so much so that music becomes her only escape. Apple sets out to buy a guitar and learn to play, but what truly makes a difference is not the music…it’s her new friends. Ages 8–12.
Coat of Many Colors by Dolly Parton and Brooke Boynton-Hughes
An illustrated version of the famous song, it follows a little girl from Tennessee whose mother lovingly makes her a coat out of rags to protect her from the winter. Ages 4–8.
Tía Isa Wants a Car by Meg Medina and Claudio Muñez
The book’s narrator loves her Tía Isa. So when Isa starts saving for her dream car, and her savings continually fall short because she’s helping out family members far away, the niece decides to get odd jobs so she can help Tía Isa fulfill her dream. Ages 4–8.
When Times Are Tough by Yanitzia Canetti
It’s hard for a child to understand why they can’t have what other children have. This book follows a family undergoing serious financial challenges, and it shows how they get through them together. Ages 6–8.
The Mighty Miss Malone by Cristopher Paul Curtis
Deza’s a gifted child growing up in a loving, optimistic family. But when the Great Depression hits, causing a scarcity of jobs for Black men, her father Gary must leave to find work. Determined to find him, Deza, her mother, and her older brother go search for him. Ages 9–12.