Teaching Economics with Children’s Literature: Clever Cat

Clever Cat

Have you ever wondered if your dog or cat is smarter than he or she lets on?  Clever Cat, written and illustrated by Peter Collington, takes readers into the mind of the average household pet.  Quite fed up with waiting to be fed each and every day, Tibs (a cat) climbs up on the counter opens a can of cat food and feeds himself to the astonishment of the family who owns him.  Delighted with her very clever cat, Mrs. Ford gives him a key to the house and eventually her cash card. “‘I forgot to pick you up some cat food,’ she said. ‘Do you think you can take out some cash and buy yourself some dinner?'” Before long, Tibs is eating in restaurants, shopping, and going to the movies.  No longer willing to simply provide for the cat’s keep, Mr. and Mrs. Ford take back the cash card and tell Tibs to get a job. “‘We need to talk,’ said Mr. Ford. ‘You’re a very clever cat, but a very expensive one to keep.  You’re going to have to help out with the bills.'” It doesn’t take Tibs long to discover that earning his keep is hard work and not nearly as much fun as playing dumb and waiting to be fed.  Taking his cues from other cats on the street, Tibs forgets how to feed himself as quickly as he learned and eventually Mrs. Ford breaks down and feeds Tibs herself.  A satisfied Tibs curls up in the sun next to the other cats in the neighborhood who wink “at each other as if to say, ‘Finally, a clever cat.'”

Curriculum Connections

Clever Cat is a fantastic children’s book  for introducing a number of general principles of economics: economic choice, scarcity, opportunity cost, human resources, and the use of money.  Kindergartners through third graders will appreciate Tibs’ struggle to take control of his own life, his joy in spending money freely, and the painful lesson that nothing in life is free.  Cash cards can feel like magic to children (much the way that Mrs. Ford’s cash card feels to Tibs) but the lesson that the Fords ultimately teach, helps to explain that cash cards are just another form of money that has to be earned and used in exchange for goods and services (2.8).  Teachers can use the book to talk about the choices that Tibs has to make once the Ford’s force him to get a job and relate that to the choices that people make when resources are scarce (K.7, 1.8, 2.9, 3.9).  In addition, Tibs’ short time as a waiter provides an opportunity to talk about human resources and the role that workers play in bringing products and services to consumers (2.7).  The illustrations are a perfect counterpoint to the story and help to build students’ background knowledge about ATM machines, financial transactions for goods and services, and the work and effort involved with holding down a job. While the breadth of the book lends itself to all of the topics above, a lesson that includes all of the above topics would probably be overwhelming for an introductory lesson.  As a result, it is recommended that teachers select one or possibly two of the concepts listed to focus their lesson.

Additional Resources

  • Teaching Ideas for Opportunity Costs– In addition to purchasing information for an opportunity cost poster and activity pages, this page of Kid’s Econ Posters includes a number of ideas for teaching the concept of opportunity costs to young elementary students.
  • Scarcity and Choice – This site provides good background information for elementary age students about scarcity and choice and relates it to their lives.
  • Opportunity Costs Game– This site provides directions for a very simple game that teachers could introduce to students to support the concept of opportunity costs.  Students win $150 and have to choose which prize or prizes out of a given list they would select with their prize money.  All prizes not selected are the opportunity cost.
  • Reinforcing the Concepts of Scarcity and Choice – This lesson plan asks students to imagine they are boarding the Mayflower for the new world and can take one small suitcase.  What would they pack? Teachers in the upper elementary grades can use this lesson or a variation thereof to reinforce the concepts of scarcity and choice while teaching students about colonization of the United States.

Book: Clever Cat
Author: Peter Collington
Illustrator: Peter Collington
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 2000
Grade Range: PreK-3
ISBN: 0375804773

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