Friday, November 21

Eddie, Incorporated

by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Atheneum 1980

Everybody in Eddie's family is in business or on their way. His father runs a produce market and his mother bakes goods sold in the store. His older brother Roger worked in a shoe store with eyes on a management position. His other brother Joseph is a whiz with numbers with plans to become a banker, always with a calculator in hand, figuring out the interest on any sum being discussed.

Eddie didn't have a job, or prospects, or even the slightest idea about what to do to earn money. But he wanted a job, and not just any old job: Eddie wanted to be the boss and own his own business. After a visit with his tinkerer neighbor Mr. Clemmons, Eddie learns that if you can find a problem or a need you can build a business around it. Looking at his littered neighborhood Eddie decides to start an aluminum can collection business, and he brings his friends Dink and Elizabeth in as partners.

The can business seems to be going along well, but once they factor in their costs and divide the money Eddie and his friends realize they're making pennies a day and decide to fold their business. Eddie tries to invent a shoe deodorizer with disastrous results, a lawn service no one wants, starts up a local newsletter which requires more effort than it's worth, and eventually devises a benign protection racket at his middle school to prevent sixth graders from being hazed by eighth graders. Along the way Eddie and his friends learn about advertising, profits and losses, writing up business plans and contracts - everything a budding entrepreneur would need to know in order to set up shop. In the end Eddie creates a babysitter agency that acts as an intermediary between sitters and families in need, collecting fees from both sides for their efforts. In true entrepreneurial fashion Eddie discovers the joys of being his own boss, and that there are ways to earn money from the efforts of others.

I have to say, I love stories that show kids how the business world works and I wish there were more of them. Stories about kids setting up a business to make money are fine, but what I'd like to see are more of the nitty-gritty, the nuts and bolts of what it means beyond "let's set up a lemonade stand and make a few dollars we can spend down at the candy store." Eddie doesn't just want a job, or a few quick bucks, he wants to be a boss and own his own business. Eddie doesn't have dreams about what he'll do with all the money he'll make, he's more concerned with making his businesses be both practical and profitable. He doesn't want to work for someone else but he's not lazy, Eddie works harder at making his businesses work than he would running deliveries for his father.

As usual, Naylor nails the middle grade world with its own sense of logic and independence. It's an older book, looks like it was last printed in 1985, which makes it a library find. My copy actually was a library find, a library discard sale book, which would indicate that it's lost favor with contemporary readers. Probably because it's the original printing and the illustrations by Blanche Sims give it a dated feel. I like the drawings, but I'm not a kid. With minor adjustments in dollar amounts (adjusted for inflation, of course) and fresh illustrations I think this is still a relevant title for budding executives.
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