Teaching Economics with Children’s Literature: Ox-Cart Man


In October he backed his ox into his cart
and he and his family filled it up
with everything they made or grew all year long
that was left over.

Thus begins the wonderfully simple Ox-Cart Man, written by Donald Hall and illustrated by Barbara Cooney.  This story clearly tells the tale of an 18th century New England farming family as they pack up the goods the family produced and do not need for their own survival.  Using lyrical and repetitive language, the author lists the items the family produced.  Some of these items include:  a bag of wool he sheared from a sheep, a shawl his wife wove on a loom, mittens his daughter knit, birch brooms his son carved with a borrowed kitchen knife, the potatoes they dug from their garden (after he counts out what they will need to eat and seed), and a bag of goose feathers his children collected from the barnyard geese.   The man takes the goods to the market and sells everything including his ox cart, ox, yoke, and harness.  "With a pocket full of coins, he walked through Portsmouth Market" where the man takes the money to buy the things the family will need.  He buys an iron kettle, an embroidery needle for his daughter, a knife for his son, and wintergreen peppermint candies for the whole family.  When the man returns home the cycle continues as the family produces more goods.

and his daughter took her needle and began stitching.
and his son took his Barlow knife and started whittling.
and they cooked dinner in their new kettle.
and afterward everyone ate a wintergreen peppermint candy.

The story continues to list all of the things the family produces the next year, cleverly ending with

and geese squawked in the barnyard
dropping feathers as soft as clouds.

It is easy to understand why this book won the 1980 Caldecott Medal.  The illustrations are realistic and give a great feeling for the time period.  They do an excellent job of showing the story through the pictures.  A beginning reader could certainly use the pictures to tell the story and any reader could use them to visualize the life style and other things that are unfamiliar to many people today.

Curriculum Connections

The Ox-Cart Man can be used to introduce and/or enhance many of the Virginia Standards of Learning for elementary students.  Related to Economics, it clearly shows the goods the farming family produces and portrays them in the role of both producer and consumer (VA SOL 1.7).  It can be used to illustrate that people work to earn money to buy the things people want (VA SOL K.7b).  It is also a good example of how people cannot produce everything they want, so they specialize in what they do best and trade for the rest (VA SOL 3.8).  Some other curriculum connections related to social studies include being able to describe the past ((VA SOL K.2) and comparing the changes in community life over time (VA SOL 2.3).

Additional Resources

  • Reading Rainbow featured Ox-Cart Man on one of their episodes (episode #18).  It has provided teacher activities that offer many great topics for discussion, curriculum extension activities, classroom, and home activities.
  • KidsEcon Posters has a suggested lesson plan related to consumers to use along with the Ox-Cart Man under the Literature Connections section.
  • School Improvement in Maryland has lesson plans and activities related directly to this book and corresponding younger elementary school economics standards.
  • Progeny Press provides activities related to Ox-Cart Man including an As-you-read chart and vocabulary ideas.


General Information

Book: Ox-Cart Man
Author: Donald Hall
Illustrator: Barbara Cooney
Publisher: Viking Press
Publication Date: 1979
Pages: 40
Grade Range: K-3
ISBN-10: 0140504419
ISBN-13: 978-0140504415

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