CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 20 . . . . June 9, 2000
Once he had his Formula Three and Group C driving experience, Michael Schumacher was ready for Formula One. It is easy to understand why he would be eager to get behind the wheel of a Formula One racing car. Formula One (F1) is regarded as the top level of motor racing. Winning F1 drivers make a lot of money and can become quite famous. In many places, especially in Europe, top F1 drivers are treated in the same way as movie stars and popular singers. Their names are mentioned in gossip columns. Their pictures appear on the front cover of magazines. Enthusiastic fans try every trick in the book to meet them and get their autographs.Accompanying promotional material quotes the series editor, Joseph Romain, YA author and coordinator of children's literacy services at Toronto Public Library: "I perceived a need for well crafted books that appeal to emerging readers. The trick is to wave a sports hero in front of the reluctant reader's face, and whack him over the head with good literature while they're [sic] not looking." According to the same piece, "Joseph gave the series [sic] authors a mandate: hook these reluctant young readers and reel them into the world [of] written words."
The now discontinued "Series Canada" and "Series 2000" books edited by Paul Kropp provided ample evidence that hi-lo books can be most effective in engaging reluctant readers. Unfortunately, YA readers, both "regular" and "reluctant,"expect the same qualities that attracted them to fiction to be also present in nonfiction, including biography, namely a "plot" and lots of dialogue. These two aspects of fiction may be most difficult for the author of nonfiction to supply.
Romain's starting point, "wav[ing] a sports hero in front of the reluctant reader's face" is valid, but the trick is to identify a sports hero who is not going to be short-lived in today's world of professional sports. As well, although Canada hosts a Formula One Grand Prix race, it is questionable how many adolescents, especially reluctant readers, avidly follow the circuit and its drivers. However, if one grants that two-time Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher may be of interest to contemporary teens, then the next concern is how well Ken Sparling, a novelist, editor of literary magazines and writer for the Toronto Public Library's public relations department, "hooks" the reluctant reader and "reels" him in. Continuing the fishing metaphor is risky, but one could say that, though the fish has taken the hook, it is not necessarily well set.
Sparling does provide a "plot" in that the Schumacher's story is essentially told in a chronological fashion from his birth in 1969 through the 1998 racing season, and the author avoids the fault found in so many biographies for juveniles, that of making the book's subject into a paragon. However, told in the third person, Michael Schumacher lacks the immediacy and involving intimacy that so many readers seek for only occasionally does Sparling provide direct quotes from the book's subject. Readers who want to experience vicariously what it is like to be driving an F1 racing car that can travel in excess of 300 km/h will not find out by reading Michael Schumacher.
The book's illustrations are also a disappointment. Following the full colour cover, the book only has four full page black and white photos, one of which repeats the cover illustration, and none of the photographs are "racing action"shots. The only other "illustrative" materials are some 28 "figures" which list, for example, Schumacher's point standings in various races and years.
The book concludes with a five page "Glossary of Motor Racing Terms" plus a page which lists the "Research Sources."
Recommended with Reservations.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and YA literature in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association.
Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice
is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.