Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Clipped! Lawn Boy Returns by Gary Paulsen

"You're saying we actually need someone to manage the people who are working for us to manage the business?" I said.

"Crazy, isn't it?" said Arnold. "But just think--you're stimulating the economy by giving all these people jobs."

"But who's going to manage the people we hire to manage the people who manage the business?"

"Oh. Well....wait. That would be just silly."

"Good," I said.

It's only been a month, a month since Lawn Boy inherited his grandfather's trusty old riding mower and decided to earn a few bucks to fix up his bike so he could ride around goofing with his friends. Then he met Arnold, a down-on-his-luck accountant/investment counselor who offers to "manage" LB's money for a free mowing job, and the rest is financial history. Lawn Boy finds he has the knack for mowing, and when he has more jobs than he can cover, Arnold offers his also unemployed buddy Pasqual to lend a hand. Before he knows it, LB has employees and a schedule, and Arnold is investing his surplus cash in risky ventures which just happen to turn over triple digit returns. Arnold talks him into taking over the management of the punchy but promising boxer Joey Pow and Pow turns a neat profit, too. From a broke twelve-year-old kid, Lawn Boy is suddenly a mini-magnet, with $400,000 (and change) in the bank, and his family's financial worries are history, too.

Well, the summer winds on, and in the sequel to his best-selling Lawn Boy (Yearling, 2009) our hard-mowing hero is back with Lawn Boy Returns (Random, 2010) just in time for the this summer's growing season.

Picking up where he left off, we see Lawn Boy beginning to yearn for the simplicity of the old days when all he did was mow a few lawns, ruefully ruminating on the fact that he never did get time to buy that inner tube and ride his bike. He's now the titular head of a going concern. Arnold has expanded the company's services to include pool maintenance, garage cleaning, and landscaping, necessitating some new hires--an attorney, a tax accountant, a business manager, an administrative assistant/webmeister, and an office manager, (pretty surprising since the "office" is still Arnold's dining room and kitchen tables, that is until his negotiations on a corporate headquarters building are consummated.)

Then things get complicated. Joey Pow sorta "forgets" to throw a fight that the local crooks had, er, invested in heavily, and LB's grandma is the hostage of choice until the, um, "discussions" are complete. Zed, Joey Pow's a self-proclaimed second cousin by multiple marriage turns up and parks his rusty rig in LB's yard, inviting his beer-bellied buddies for a beer-and-wienie bash, and leans on LB for a cushy job with the family business. Suddenly, Lawn Boy learns that the company is being audited by the IRS and his parents are being sued for violation of child labor law. His all-American rags-to-riches story has made him a media darling, and there's a covey of cute girls encamped on his curb with autograph books.

Another promising start-up is threatened by overexuberant expansion.

Nothing sucks like success. It's time for the chairman of Lawn Boy, Inc., to take charge.

Gary Paulsen's short and snappy second book is just as drop-dead funny as the first and should be read as soon as the first book is finished. Lawn Boy is a likable, intrinsically cool character who rides it all out on the well-worn seat of his grandpa's mower, and when things seem overwhelming, he finds a note, taped to the bottom of the seat and neatly printed from his late Gramps:

"A ship is safe in the harbor, but that's not why ships are built."

Yep. Lawn Boy has truly tried the waters, and as the summer wanes, and after a much-needed layover in a quiet cove, he's ready to face school and is almost looking forward to the simplicity of trig. But of course, Arnold has big plans for adding winterizing and snow removal to the company's services and then ....

These two books, best-sellers in humorous tradition of Jeff Kinney's Wimpy Kid, are often touted as "reluctant reader" fodder. Newbery winner Paulsen is indeed the master of full-speed storytelling and straightforward but memorable prose, but for the middle school reader these two books have more than brevity going for them. His chapter titles--"The Origins of Economic Collapse," and "Crisis Management as a Form of Team Development"--point up his tongue-in-cheek but telling commentaries on the perils of entrepreneurship, with Lawn Boy's innate common sense in the mix to make sure it's smooth sailing ahead for Lawn Boy, Inc. It's a lot of laughs and a lesson in life in one fell swath of close-clipped lawn as Lawn Boy rides on.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home