Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we look at the things that answer the question “what’s happening?” and follow with some books for you #TBR pile that match the trending topics
Social media has been a-twitter (sorry) recently with the news that one of the world’s richest men and most incredible dancers Elon Musk has purchased the Twitter social media platform for a business-savvy $44 billion dollars. Among other concerns, the purchase has some experts worried that the platform’s tendency to spread misinformation could be exacerbated by the new owner’s penchant for completely unfettered speech. (It’s a concern that was seemingly bolstered by his own recent posts of conspiracy theories.)
For this Telegram, we figured it would be timely and relevant to recommend some books for all ages about media literacy, misinformation, and uncovering the truth. So, put on your press badges; this week we read to stop the spread of “fake news”!
Best to start with figuring out what you can trust online with some picture books – and there are few more relevant than Michael Rex’s Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots. Using robots to help young readers distinguish between facts (how many robots appear on a page) and opinions (which robot dances the best – that keeps coming up), the book will help any young reader sort out their reportage from their punditry.
Professor Goose Debunks Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Paulette Bourgeois and Alex G. Griffiths brings some healthy skepticism to the classic fairy tale. Like a feathered Daniel Dale, Professor Goose fact-checks some classic fairy tales and shares the truth behind these flawed stories. Goose’s debunkings start off with Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and boy is there a LOT of misinformation in THAT story. (For instance, bears don’t live in cottages – they prefer dens! The smallest bowl of porridge wouldn’t be “just right” – it would have been the coldest!)
And with Sad Little Fact, author Jonah Winter and illustrator Pete Oswald (who brought us The Good Egg) remind young readers about of the importance of honesty and truth during a time of lies and fake news. It’s a parable about a sad little fact who is locked away by the Authorities, along with other facts. But, as the people who want to repress them find out, facts can be very stubborn things!
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
Media literacy around current events is one thing, but what about for historical events? That’s where Kate Messner’s History Smashers series comes in. Covering everything from the American Revolution to the Suffrage Movement and the Underground railroad, these books crack open the stories behind famous moments in (mostly American) history and expose the hidden truth and smash misconceptions. And it’s all done with a mix of photos, comic illustrations, and sidebars. There’s even a book about Plagues and Pandemics if you want something especially timely!
For a story about how journalism can uncover corporate (and school administration) malfeasance, The Renegade Reporters by Elissa Brent Weissman follows Ash, Maya, and Brielle after they are ejected from their school’s news show for some irresponsible reporting. Unable to give up that journalist life, they become unsanctioned reporters and uncover a dark secret: the educational company that provides their school’s software is illegally gathering data from all the kids at school! (Hey, that’s what social media is for!)
Going back a bit (to 1994!), Darnell Rock Reporting by Walter Dean Myers is a classic story about a middle-school student with no interest in journalism, but who learns about the power of the media when he interviews a homeless man in his neighborhood and decides to write an article about low-income families.
And for a book that explore media literacy about environmentalism and the climate crisis, try Eyes Wide Open: Going behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman. The book can serve as a tool kit for decoding the barrage of conflicting information they see and hear online and elsewhere about environmental issues.
A teen journalist uncovers a music industry scandal in Camryn Garrett’s Off the Record. Josie Wright wins a contest to write a celebrity profile of hot, up-and-coming actor Marius Canet, and she soon begins to fall for the hype surrounding him. But when Wright uncovers terrible secrets told to her by young actresses, she must decide if she can publish the radical truth she learns, even if it affects her future prospects.
Not so much about journalism and media literacy as it is about people behaving badly on social media, Margot Mertz Takes It Down by Carrie McCrossen and Ian McWethy follows a high school student in her mission to take down a site featuring compromising photos of Roosevelt High girls.
For something more like a how-to guide, there’s Chasing the Truth: A Young Journalist’s Guide to Investigative Reporting by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, adapted for young readers by Ruby Shamir. Partially an adaptation of the bestselling She Said, the two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists describe their early days writing their first stories to their time holding the most powerful in society to account, offering tips and advice to budding young journalists along the way.