CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 21. . . .February 3, 2012
Duped! True Stories of the World's Best Swindlers. (It Actually Happened).
Andreas Schroeder. Illustrated by Rémy Simard.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2011.
157 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $21.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-350-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-351-2 (hc.).
Swindlers and swindling-Juvenile literature.
Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.
Review by Saeyong Kim.
For the next several seasons, a gigantic version of Jumbo kept touring with the circus, amazing American children and fattening Barnum's bank account. Meanwhile, Barnum published The Life, History and Death of Jumbo – a biography of Jumbo so full of inventions, exaggerations, and outright lies that it could have been called pure fiction.
It was a bestseller for years.
By the end of the broadcast, the hallways around the studio were crammed with police, reporters, photographers, and gawkers. Finally informed about the situation outside, a delighted Welles and his crew escaped out a back door.
It appeared that Welles's production had been every bit as gripping and memorable as he'd hoped.
Duped! is an illustrated nonfiction book describing eight deceptions – including forgery, identity fraud, cheating in a yacht-race, and a huge publicity stunt. The author, Andreas Schroeder, is an award-winning writer and an expert on hoaxes who has spoken on national radio about the topic.
Apart from the main chapters, the book has also a list of contents, a brief introduction to scams and how they work, a list of books for further reading, a bibliography, an index and a page of author and illustrator information. The ratio of text to illustration is roughly 1:1, and much of the book alternates between full-page text and full-page illustration. The illustrations are in comic or graphic novel style, however, and almost always include some text which is important to the chapter. The pictures are mostly of people, rather than being maps or diagrams, and convey the strong human element of scams, the emotions and attitudes of the people involved in them.
The scams are well chosen and arranged so as to give the reader a sense of how many different ways to deceive others have been used in the past, in quite varied circumstances. The text is written in a clear, conversational tone which is easy to understand, but it does not talk down to the reader. Necessary background information, such as the definition of a forger, religious tensions in England at the end of the 18th century, who P. T. Barnum was, the process and purpose of counterfeiting banknotes, etc., are provided in little gray boxes separately from the main text, but the reader is expected to know such things as the basics of World War II, the definition and implications of a class system, what it means to file a patent, and the role of investors in a company. While the tales can be enjoyed without going into the details of any of the above, the almost casual reference to them in the text can spark questions in the curious reader.
The wonderful thing about Duped! is that it is a fun read for those interested in scams, but it can also lead, all on its own, to discussing an amazing variety of topics – any of those mentioned just above, but also the ethical issues of managing publicity, animal cruelty, the complexities of family relationships when involving money or fame, gender or class relationships, the responsibilities of an artist or a scientist to society or humanity, and so on. Readers are given lots of room to think for themselves.
Saeyong Kim is studying for a Master of Arts in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia, BC.
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