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Grade 6-8

Work, Earnings and Economics: Using ‘Lyddie’ by Katherine Paterson

Updated: July 21 2015,
Author: Charlotte Higler


Have you ever wondered what your life may have been like if you had been born in another century? You are about to take such a ‘back to the past’ journey as you read the novel, LyddieLyddie by award winning author Katherine Paterson. The story begins when a huge bear breaks into Lyddie’s cabin, a portent of things to come. As you read, you will learn about economic concepts that help to explain part of this story. You will also explore through certain Internet sites, thel setting, Lowell, Massachusetts, where this story takes place. The final activity will bring you back to the 21st Century as you help someone weigh his income against his expenditures, in an effort to help him achieve his financial goals.

Task List

Lyddie Worthen’s parents are gone. Her brother and sisters are sent to live with other people. Her dream is to reunite her family, and so she takes a job in the cotton mills of Lowel,l Massachusetts. As you read this story, you will learn how modern economic concepts such as scarcity, opportunity cost, incentives, saving, and interest affected Lyddie, a young girl who lived in the early 19th Century. You will also learn about child labor practices and the growth of government regulation and labor unions. By visiting some interesting Internet sites, you will learn about the world in which Lyddie lived, worked, and dreamed. Finally, you will use your mathematical skills to complete an activity calculating income and expenses in an effot to help someone reach his financial goals.


 Click here to download a study guide of the following questions.

  • In Chapter 1, ‘The Bear,’ what are some of the scarce resources described in Lyddie’s home? Are the things you listed scarce in our homes today?
  • Explain how scarcity of resources influenced the decisions made by members of Lyddie’s family.
  • An incentive is something that encourages or discourages an individual to make one choice over another. CottonThere are negative incentives (things we want to avoid) and positive incentives (things we want). Identify negative or positive incentives influencing each of the following decisions.
    • Lyddie’s and Charlie’s decision not to tell their mother about the calf and to sell it themselves and keep the proceeds.
    • Lyddie’s and Charlie’s decision to accept the jobs at the mill and the tavern.
    • Lyddie’s decision not to turn Ezekiel Abernathy (Freeman) in as a runaway slave.
  • Why was there very little incentive for Lyddie to stay at Culver’s Tavern? What were Charlie’s incentives to stay at the Mill?
  • What benefits did Lyddie identify as she made her decision to run away from the tavern and to take the job in the mills in Lowell?
  • What were the opportunity costs of going to Lowell?
  • According to the novel Lyddie, what conditions existed there in the Lowell Mills that do not exist in the workplaces of the United States today?
  • What caused these conditions to improve for workers in the United States?
  • Why did the factory owners keep increasing the speed of the machines, while decreasing the quality of the workers’ food?
  • Describe the economic plan that Lyddie had to reunite her family.
  • Name two things that helped Lyddie reach her savings goals.
  • At the end of the story, Lyddie must make another choice. What are the two options? What does she choose? What is her opportunity cost in this decision?


Please complete this worksheet. It is about making sound financial decisions.

Assessment Activity

Please take this online quiz. Once you finish reading and thinking about Lyddie, you will probably want to do more research on child labor and the economic principles and concepts you have learned about in this lesson. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Search Lyddie on the internet . Find sites that feature original photos showing child labor practices in the United States in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Select a specific type of child labor. Do some research and prepare a poster or an electronic presentation that describes the work, the industry, and the government regulation or social forces that Factory eventually brought about a positive change.
  2. Go to Scholastic Magazine's web site and find the special report on Child Labor Around the World. How do the economic concepts of scarcity, opportunity cost, and incentives help to explain the lives of the individuals in these news stories? Write a news story of your own that would provide some solutions for these problems. Remember to keep in mind the economic principles you have studied.
  3. Charles Dickens was Lyddie's favorite author. Research the author and discover the themes and settings he loved to write about. Does this research provide any insight into why Mr. Dickens would be Lyddie's favorite?