by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
“Entrepreneur” wasn’t really a popular career goal in our community when I was a kid, but, looking back, I realize I did have some entrepreneurial zeal.
I was always dreaming up ideas, and I was never afraid to mobilize the neighborhood kids to work on a fund-raiser or artistic production. I wrote, directed, and produced backyard musicals. My friends and I concocted new, non-lemonade drinks and sold them at a sidewalk refreshment stand. I babysat for the five Burke kids; and I worked on an alternative newspaper (Zephyr) as a writer and ad salesperson. And, notably, two summers in a row (during the early 1970s—when civil rights were very much in the news), we staged a backyard carnival to raise money for the NAACP.
While my ideas were big and creative, the funds to support them were neither. So there was a gravitational pull (aka pressure from my parents) toward getting a summer job that provided a desk, required me to wear something other than shorts and a T-shirt, and offered a paycheck. This imagined summer job, they hoped, would also look good on my application to a college that would eventually lead me to gainful employment (preferably in medicine or law) when I graduated.
I tried to explain to my parents why I couldn’t find a desk job—or any paying job for that matter: I had no idea how to get hired. I also didn’t have any self-confidence to start the process. Not to mention, my closet was filled with (now-iconic but then typical) teenage clothes that were not appropriate for office life: hip-huggers from Hip Pocket in Newton Center, clogs, and (ugh!) midriffs. So I was able to stall and avoid the career track for a few more in-between summers when I put on plays and read my way through the stacks at the Newton Center Public Library.
Eventually, after I grew up a little, I was able to take the subway (now called the “T”) to downtown Boston, get a passable professional wardrobe, and wrangle an internship at the Massachusetts State House working for David J. Mofenson, a congressman from Newton.
I submitted my application, along with thousands of other Boston-area kids with career-oriented parents, but I didn’t get accepted. But my dad (who knew his way around state bureaucracy, having run a system of public mental health clinics in Massachusetts for many years) suggested I volunteer, to get my feet wet and my name known. I offered to work for free. They accepted. And when I applied again the next summer, I got the paid job.
My manager, an aide to Representative Mofenson, gave me the task of writing a comprehensive paper on the lively topic of coal: specifically bituminous and anthracite coal.
It is a testament of my determination to prove myself when I was a volunteer that first summer that I was such a heads-down busy beaver, I didn’t realize how little I was doing and how un-fun it was. But that second year, the summer of 1977, it took me about three days to realize that almost everyone who worked in the State House must have been vacationing on Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard, that coal production was not a particularly pressing issue in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and that no one would ever read this particular report, no matter how comprehensive I made it.
So I had, as my daughter calls it, a lot of time for “extra-curriculars”—non-job-related stuff you do while at the office.
This was my first office job, and since it really didn’t require too much of me—and it was honestly so boring—I used my extra-curriculars time for the entrepreneurial ventures I loved, like planning a huge fund-raising party for my friends at the American Legion Post #440 in Newton (which, to digress for a moment, I just learned on Facebook is going to be the venue for our next Newton North High School reunion in 2020. Talk about continuity!).
While this State House job mollified my parents, got me out of the house, and allowed me to get some party planning done, it was a ridiculous waste of time. Now, years later, when we hire summer interns at Scholastic Reading Club, I insist that they have meaningful work to do. It is just too demoralizing to be stuck inside an office building during nice summer days and spend hours writing a report that no one will ever read.
But everyone’s career is a journey, and I think that first experience—at a boring, utterly non-entrepreneurial job—contributed to the work I later pursued. After college, I veered away from law school. With the help of an incredibly dear friend, who pulled some strings, I got accepted to the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course and started my career in publishing.
My copy test to get my first $165-a-week job as a publicity assistant at Dell Publishing was to write a press release for the book tie-in edition of a “crime drama” starring Richard Gere. To this day, I can remember the first line of the press release that got me the job: “Wherever Julian Cole went, women wanted what he offered.” (Ugh.)
Practically during the first week of working in publicity at Dell Publishing, I met David Vozar, who has been my cherished friend and collaborator for more than three decades. I think David and I are “intrepreneurs”: creative collaborators and problem solvers who always say “what if,” and never say “never”—but within a corporate business.
We have been working together for so long that it’s kind of hard for me to accept that David had a professional life before me, but it turns out he did.
“My first experience with any type of job was when I was in fourth grade. Ed Sheridan, my friend and the neighborhood paperboy, was going on vacation. He asked me to take his route and offered to pay me six dollars for the week. To me, that was a small fortune, so I immediately said yes.
“Little did I know what the job entailed. There was no pre-job interview, just a few verbal instructions from Ed. So on the morning of my first day, I rose before the sun came up and walked to the end of Spring Street to pick up the large bundles of newspapers. I had to collate them into what would become the full Star Ledger newspaper. In all, there were probably about 30 newspapers that had to be delivered by bicycle.
“My bike had one of those huge double baskets in the back that pretty much held all the papers. With my list of addresses in hand, I rode to each house and placed each newspaper carefully at the door. By the third day, I was hurling the papers so they landed at least somewhere near the Star Ledger subscriber’s front yard. I perfected my technique and got a little more efficient each day, but then Sunday came and the paper quadrupled in size. While most people thought of Sunday as a day of rest, the paperboys had to haul those massive things around. The bigger papers didn’t all fit in my bike basket so I had to make multiple trips. Needless to say, I was glad when Ed came home from vacation.”
’David and I weren’t exactly “kidpreneurs” (I don’t think the word even existed then). And there was no Shark Tank or Restaurant Startup. But entrepreneurship was alive and well as it always is. Here are some incredible entrepreneurs who are about the same age—give or take a few years—as David and me:
At Scholastic Reading Club, we were introduced to one of the 2017 Best STEM Books, as named by the Children’s Book Council—What Does It Mean to Be an Entrepreneur? by Rana DiOrio and Emma D. Dryden, illustrated by Ken Min—which does a really nice job of making the concept of entrepreneurship accessible for kids and perfect for teachers to have in their classrooms.
What People Are Saying
“The lighthearted approach to this important topic would appeal to children and leave them with the assurance that entrepreneurship is not only for adults.” —School Library Connection
The book stars Rae: a young, innovative, and curious girl who launches her own robotic dog wash after identifying a dirty-dog problem in her community.
This book encourages children to treat problems as opportunities for innovation and never to give up, and shows them that entrepreneurs can be any age.
I also think that while this book will inspire some kids to pursue their entrepreneurial passions, it may also help other kids realize that they don’t want to take on all the stress and responsibility of being an entrepreneur, and that they would prefer a more structured job. Which is great too.
One of the book’s main ideas is: Being an entrepreneur means…asking “What if?” So, moved by the entrepreneurial spirit, we asked ourselves, What if we dedicate this blog to growing awareness for wonderful but lesser-known children’s books (like this one) that deserve a wider audience? What if we create posts inspired by the book to give teachers fun and engaging ways to make it come alive for young readers? And what if…we wrap it all up in a Dollar Deal of the Week program to help get it into as many classrooms as possible?
And we decided yes! It’s a worthwhile idea that we should try! So for one week only, we are offering What Does It Mean to Be an Entrepreneur? for the super-low price of one dollar.
To order, you need to be a teacher—or a parent with a child connected to a teacher—with a Scholastic Reading Club account (sign in or create an account here). If you need help, please call our truly friendly Customer Service reps at 1-800-SCHOLASTIC.
We hope you and your students will enjoy exploring this charming and thoughtful book with us and be as inspired as we are by its message.
Alexie and I also pulled some new and classic books from the Scholastic Reading Club bookshelves about kids and their jobs. Take a look below. These titles are available at the JudyNewmanAtScholastic blog boutique on the Scholastic Reading Club website—all offered at our regular great-value price.
by Beverly Cleary
Klickitat Street is as busy as ever, and yet ten-year-old Henry Huggins has nothing to do with his free time. Then opportunity comes knocking—Mr. Capper needs a new paperboy! It seems like the perfect way to do something meaningful…only the world seems intent on making sure Henry can’t get the job. This Beverly Cleary classic, part of the series that inspired the spin-off tales of Henry’s neighbors Ramona and Beezus, is sure to resonate with any child who has ever wanted to prove they were old enough to handle more responsibility—just like David Vozar!
What People Are Saying
“Henry goes on being funny with a resemblance to everyone’s younger brother. A chuckle a page!” —Kirkus Reviews
by Dav Pilkey
By traveling alongside one paperboy as he embarks on his early-morning journey, readers get a sense of what makes the experience of having a paper route so special. Dav Pilkey—who, as practically every kid knows, is the creator of Captain Underpants and the new mega-seller Dog Man—captures the magical solitude of dawn, the weight of the papers, and the pride of the responsibility. It’s a beautiful picture book that won a Caldecott Honor.
What People Are Saying
“A quiet, solid mood piece with a quiet, solid protagonist, who becomes a hero simply by doing his job every day.” —Kirkus Reviews
I am wistful that I didn’t know David when he had his paper route, and doubly wistful that paper routes are becoming less and less of a viable job option for kids. I haven’t seen paper routes featured in many recent kids’ books, but if you know of one you’d recommend, please send it our way.
by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Behind every adult scientist is a young, curious mind with a passion for discovering more about the world. This picture book follows Ada—a girl who, from the moment she could talk, has always wanted to know “Why?” Her natural curiosity sparks in her a desire to learn more and leads to experiment after experiment…sometimes shocking her parents and teachers.
Author Andrea Beaty wrote this book with real-life scientists Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie in mind, and spoke more about her own passion for science in an interview with Scholastic Kid Reporter Maxwell Surprenant (you can read his article here).
What People Are Saying
“Use this book to jump-start conversations about scientists, girl scientists, gender roles, forming hypotheses, giftedness and childhood genius, and individual creativity. Or just use it for laughs on a lazy school day afternoon.” —New York Journal of Books
by Gary Paulsen
Imagine one day you were mowing your front lawn…and then, within the next few weeks, you were the boss of 15 employees and had over $50,000! This hilarious book tells the story of an unnamed 12-year-old boy who accidentally becomes an extremely successful entrepreneur overnight. As the boy experiences his business flourishing, readers learn business terms and strategies. A lighthearted story from the creator of Newbery-winning Hatchet, Lawn Boy is a quick, funny read that will have readers dreaming of summer.
What People Are Saying
“This short and hilarious tale pitches an ordinary preteen with an old riding lawn mower into a dizzying ascent up the financial ladder.” —Booklist (starred review)
by Margot Lee Shetterly
Even if you've already seen the movie (which, by the way, Alexie loved!), you’ll find this book packed with all the fascinating details the filmmakers couldn’t fit. This edition of the New York Times–bestselling book tells the story of the many black female mathematicians who launched humans to the moon in a way that is accessible and engrossing to younger readers.
Simply put, the work of these women is absolutely astounding. In a time and place where a black woman’s dream of becoming a mathematician seemed far-fetched, these women helped achieve a goal believed by the world to be science fiction. This is a truly inspiring story about defying expectations, confronting racial and gender discrimination, and some incredibly smart, hardworking women.
What People Are Saying
“The perfect impetus for discussion on a host of important historical themes germane to the 1950s, such as gender roles, racial prejudice and segregation, and scientific exploration.…Middle-schoolers will find their story, here in a young readers’ edition of Shetterly’s 2016 adult book, engaging and inspirational.” —Booklist
Next week, we’ll feature Charlotte’s Web and other friendship and farm stories! So please check back. And I’d love to hear from you about this blog or anything else related to Scholastic Reading Club—please feel free to email me anytime at: JNBlog@Scholastic.com
These Books Are Available from Scholastic Reading Club