PPBF: The Hard-Times Jar

It's another Perfect Picture Book Friday at Susanna Leonard Hill's blog - YaY!

photo of The Hard-Times Jar
Title: The Hard-Times Jar
Author:  Ethel Footman Smothers
Illustrator:  John Holyfield
Publisher:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Date: August 12, 2003
Suitable for ages: 4 and up
Brief Synopsis: A migrant worker's daughter, Emma Turner loves books and dreams of one day having the store-bought kind, but at the Turner's house, money is tight. That means "no extras," so Emma must be content to make her own stories and books. Emma has a plan, though; she's going to save all the money she earns picking apples and put it in Mama's hard-times jar. Then there will surely be enough for extras. But when Mama tells Emma that this year she has to go to school instead of to work, it spoils her plan. How will Emma respond when she sees all of the amazing books in the school's library?
Opening Lines:  Emma rolled belly-flat. Chocolate-brown feet stuck up over pots and pans. Once upon a time. . .  she scribbled in thick black letters. She dabbed the pencil on her tongue.  "Emma, Emma Jean!" Mama's voice found her on the porch behind the moving-in boxes. Emma wiggled her big toes. She needed just one more minute.
Themes: honesty, perseverance, responsibility, wants v. needs, moving
Teaching Economics With Children's Literature at the Open Wide, Look Inside blog
A read-aloud of the book on You Tube {here}
Secrets of the Blue Pig, a Thrivent Financial article to help kids learn about saving and spending

Why I like this book:  Perfect for apple-picking season, this book embeds a great responsibility lesson. Explain to your students that responsibility literally means "the ability to respond." Ask them to find spots in the book to which Emma has to respond. Find out how well they think she does at taking responsibility. How does Emma respond to her family's situation that allows for "no extras?" How does Emma respond to having to work by picking apples? How does she respond when she has to go to school instead of work? How does Emma respond when she lands in a school where she's a minority? How does she respond to the books in her new school's library? How does Emma respond when Mama uncovers the books at her house? Was Emma stealing or just borrowing the books? Should she be punished? Why or why not?

Enrichment:  Discuss the difference between a "want" and a "need." Find out where your students learn fiscal responsibility. Make a T-chart with their desires listed as either "wants" or "needs" and find out who helps them decide. Talk with them about allowance and chores. In partnership with a local credit union, our school offers Deposit Days to help students learn about saving and spending. Ask if any of them has a hard-times jar at their house and find out how it's used. At our house, we have a Christmas Jar to hold our spare change. When it fills up, we pick a charity to donate it to. Have students journal about what they would do with the money from such a jar.


  1. I love that this book addresses responsibility. Your enrichment activity is great!

  2. This sounds like a great book, especially in these times when a lot of kids have more than they could possibly need. I love the idea of a Christmas jar. That's a great, very concrete way of demonstrating caring and sharing for others. Thanks for that idea!

  3. It's not easy to find migrant worker stories. I particularly like this one. Listened to the video of the book and it is full of messages. I particularly like your activities for the classroom! Wished I'd found this one.:)

  4. Excellent review, loved hearing why you liked this book and the idea of a Christmas Jar. I am always looking for ways to teach my kids to appreciate what they have, since they definitely have more than what they need. Thanks!

  5. I would love to read this one-I love anything about books!!Emma sounds like a "true" character-just my kind!


  6. I like the sound of this book. The opening lines have a nice "Rhythm". I can imagine Emma feeling like she's in heaven when she goes to school and sees all the books in that library. And to be with teachers who will encourage and build on that love of words. It sounds like she has a lot of struggles tho. I hope she has a dog to help see her thru. Thanks for sharing this story and all your ideas.

  7. What a find, Barbara! I like the focus for your blog...character is so important, and it takes work. Hard work.
    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Loved this story, addressing responsibility in a way kids would understand. Love the Christmas Jar and the video of the reading was lovely. Thankyou Barbara for sharing.


I really enjoy hearing from my readers; thanks for sharing your reflections with us!