Money is on my mind. It appears to be on the minds of a lot of authors, too. Take the book I'm reading right now, The Adventures of Beanboy by Lisa Harkrader (9780547550787, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, publication date Feb. 9, 2012). Tucker wants to earn a college scholarship for his Mom so she won't have to work full time and go to school full time. In the meantime, he and his very cute special needs brother, Beecher, try to save money anyway they can.
Gary Paulsen's Flat Broke is all about money, how to earn it, how NOT to earn it. (Hint: running poker games? Not a good idea.) What to do with it when you get it, being responsible with it and living without it. The book is funny and functional all at the same time!
In a lot of the books I read this Fall, the undercurrent of economic strain added to the tension between characters. When parents have to work all the time to pay the bills, they have to leave their children unsupervised. This opens the door to all kinds of misbehavior and misunderstandings. And since overworked parents are more and more common in the lives of American children, the plots are so believable.
Even in a fantasy like Small Persons With Wings, the difficulty of making ends meet works for the plot. When the very odd lawyer shows up and tells the heroine's father that his own father left him the family Inn, they move. Why? Because they won't have to pay rent if they live in the Inn and the heroine's father is having trouble with his business. (I wish I had the book in hand. I think the father is a stone mason.) BTW, the small persons have their own kinds of "economic" crises. Money is not the only currency out there.
In Marissa Meyer's Cinder, Cinder's family depends on her to provide money for clothes and food and lodging. Even still, she is treated badly and not just because she is "stepchild". The way Cinder uses the money she earns gives her step-mother a reason to throw Cinder out of the family home.
Money problems fuel family break-ups, moves, weird child care arrangements, unusual food choices, vacation disasters, holiday disappointments, wardrobe insufficiencies, even changing schools. Money, or the lack of it, formed loveless marriages, caused wars, created the environment for disease, and pestilence. Some of these are crises that kids face every day. Others are trials we hope our kids will only read about.
Money problems allow kids to vicariously make choices, such as saving rather than spending, making gifts rather than buying them, making their own fun rather than playing/buying expensive games, using their imaginations rather than their parents' wallets, being responsible for their free time or learning to live with a "baby-sitter", whining or dealing. In more dramatic books - dystopian fiction, historical novels - readers get to choose between food OR shelter; safety OR warmth, fighting or fleeing. All because of money.
Money is on my mind. I can't seem to get away from it. Sigh.