Teaching Economics with Children’s Literature: The Story of Money

“A long time ago, there was no such thing as money. The first humans had simple needs.”(3)

The Story of Money by Betsy Maestro is an informative picture book about the development of a barter system and how it led to the creation of coin and paper money. The illustrations, by Giulio Maestro, are beautifully done and create a visual for the students because they help to support the text. The book starts by telling about how people thousands of years ago lived and why they did not need money. When the groups expanded and the climate warmed up, the people began to develop settlements and grow crops. They could not use everything they produced and they could not produce everything they needed so they had to find other settlements to trade things with. The book continues to expand on how and why countries used things like salt and tea leaves as currecy. People traveled long distances to trade so a system for exchange between countries became necessary. Precious metals became the first official money in the ancient kingdom of Lydia in 640 B.C. Many examples of coins are shown and a map of the United States shows who came to the new world. When the people first settled they used a barter system with the Native Americans and then developed a need for a money system. The Story of Money finishes by showing how we now use cash, checks, credit cards, and ATMs.

Curriculum Connections: 

The Story of Money can best be used to teach the difference between they barter system and the use of money (VA2.8). It goes into great detail about what they barter system started out as and how money was developed based on the needs of the people.  There are great textual and visual examples of what bartering is and detailed drawings of coins as they developed. For second graders, its a book that must be read to the class and maybe even in parts. The first part could be to study bartering and the second to study the development of money. Its a long read but an informatively interesting one. There are also aspects of the book that would teach about specialization by countries because people and regions cannot produce everything they want and need (VA3.8) This book could be used after the concept is started to show how specialization shaped the economy today.

Additional Resources

  • Bartering Lesson Plan-  great lesson plan to teach kids what it meant to barter things that had value to you, whether it be wants or needs. Great way to show that people did not just trade to trade. They did it with purpose.
  • What did people use as money?- this is an activity that will get kids thinking about what people could have used as money. They can think about why it could have been of value.
  • How do you get what you need with what you have?-This is a great lesson plan to simulate how groups of people had needs and they had to use what they had to get the other things.

Book: The Story of Money
Betsy Maestro
Giulio Maestro
Houghton Miffilin Company
Publication Date:
Grade Range:
2nd -5th

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