It’s no secret that we live in a media-rich environment, much richer than the world twenty, forty, or seventy years ago. We live in a world where people can store entire libraries in their pocket and have television programs sent to their cell phones. But it doesn’t feel like we’ve done much to teach kids how to deal with this onslaught of information. Oh, we advise them to keep their personal info private and not put anything embarrassing on the Internet lest it come back to haunt them, but in terms of sorting through sources and looking at things with a critical eye… it seems the only difference between then and now is that instead of copying information out of a printed encyclopedia, they’re copying it from Wikipedia.
Media Meltdown by Liam O’Donnell and Mike Deas seeks to change that by introducing the concept of media literacy to kids by putting it in an easy-to-digest form: a graphic novel. For most, the concepts in this book are things they’ll never hear about until college, and that’s only if they major in the right subjects, like communications. But with media forming such an integral and increasing part in our lives, it’s important to have the tools to sort through it all, as this book both illustrates and educates.
The story revolves around a group of kids in a small town—Bounce, Pema, and Jagroop—the latter of which lives on a farm in danger of being sold to a developer. After the barn on Jagroop’s parent’s property nearly burns down, the kids suspect the developer is behind the crime, but can’t find a way to get their message through to anyone who can help them. Via Pema’s older sister Nima’s internship at the local TV station, they learn about all the pitfalls that await any message attempting to be broadcast—especially when a major advertiser is the aforementioned developer.
The narrative flows from topic to topic seamlessly, talking about the general concept of media literacy, behind the scenes at a TV station, filters, advertising, media consolidation, social media, the components of a film script, and even the types of shots used in a film and how they’re used. The kids are likable, smart but flawed. The book is reminiscent of lots of kids’ chapter book series, though less Hardy Boys and more Baby-Sitters Club, at least in plot structure and characterization. Despite my description though, it should be noted that this is a gender-neutral story, to be enjoyed by both girls and boys. It’s also somewhat age neutral too—even if the protagonists are a bunch of kids, the lessons imparted are made for anyone navigating today’s complicated media landscape, and this would be a welcome addition to any college media studies class.
Part of the book’s plot revolves around the Media Meltdown website, which exists in our world, but mostly as a tool to promote the book and media literacy education. The site includes tools for educators, suggestions for activities, and some online games, including a comic maker that allows visitors to make four-panel strips featuring characters and backgrounds from the book.
Media Meltdown is the fourth book in the Graphic Guide Adventure series; other installments include: