________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 20 . . . . May 29, 2009

cover Tabloidology.

Chris McMahen.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2009.
169 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-55469-009-1.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Michelle Superle.

** /4


“Get your paper here!” Martin called. “Read all about it! The latest in school news!”

As usual, the first person to stop by was Trixi Wilder. She snatched up a copy from the pile of papers and began reading through it.

“Hey! I keep telling you, you have to pay before you read it,” Martin said. This time, he stepped out from behind the table and tried to grab the paper back, but Trixi just kept backing away.

“Nothing!” she said. “Not a word! Not a single mention of the most original poetry assignment in the history of poetry assignments.” She stopped and waved the paper in front of Martin. “You don’t get it, do you, Marty? People won’t buy your paper if your big, splashy front-page headline is School Begins Juice-box Recycling Program.”

“It’s a very important issue, in case you didn’t know,” Martin said. “Read the article and find out why!”

“But kids at this school don’t really care about the juice-box recycling program.” She flipped to the second page. “And they don’t really care about A Day in the Life of a School Bus Driver.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that. I was quite amazed by Mr. Anderson’s account of his day-to-day routine,” Martin said. “If you read the whole article, you’ll see the great responsibilities and challenges he faces each and every day.”

Tabloidology, by Chris McMahen, is a fun parable for nine to twelve-year-olds. Exploring the liminal spaces between truth and entertainment, reality and fantasy, and work and play, the short novel follows earnest, uptight Martin and cheeky, prankster Trixi as they vie to create the best school newspaper. The problem is that each defines “best” very differently: to Trixi, entertaining people is of the utmost importance, while Martin insists on to-the-letter unbiased journalistic integrity. When their principal forces them to work together, each learns several valuable lessons about communication and prosocial behaviour.

    The story’s transparent efforts to be funny and zany make it a quick, easy read, but Tabloidology is also didactic, even preachy, which mars its overall effect. As well, several plot points are thinly justified, and the use of fantastic elements is underdeveloped, which jeopardizes the impact of the story’s moral. Neither Martin nor Trixi is a particularly sympathetic character; Martin’s nerdy obsession with grammar also makes him seem inauthentic as a tween boy. And while the narrative resolution is satisfying, it is also saccharine with lessons learned.

    It would be easy for any adult to appreciate McMahen’s efforts to educate students about media literacy; however, fiction may not be the best medium for these efforts. Even so, Tabloidology is entertaining, and it may find a happy home as a teaching tool in media literacy units for Grades Five through Seven.

Recommended with reservations.

Michelle Superle teaches Children’s Literature, Composition, and Creative Writing at the University of the Fraser Valley.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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