Get this book for your pre-teens and teens. Like sunscreen in the desert.

Mario Kart character “Toad”
We were watching a show on TV. Yes, it was The Simpsons. An ad came on for a car racing video game. It featured a bunch of little cartoon characters, a la the Mario Kart game. They were zipping along happily when they became distracted by some ultra slick, much more realistic cars racing nearby, on the other side of a chain link fence. The little kiddy characters looked crestfallen. One of them punched the other.
I sighed a deep sigh.
“I know what you’re going to say,” said older son, RL, 14, in a tone that said, “so don’t bother.”
“Ok,” I said, “What was I going to say?”
“Unnecessary violence.”
“No,” younger son, PD, 11, pipes up. “The ad is telling kids that their video game isn’t cool. They should buy this cooler game.”
Brilliant. An ad perfectly deconstructed by young PD. How did he know? He had just finished reading Made You Look: How Advertising Works and Why You Should Know, by Shari Graydon. In fact, he read it through in two days.

Every 5th grader should read this book. Ms. Graydon introduces media literacy in such an engaging and informative way that it works for a wide range of ages. The publisher says 11 and above. In fact, since children at different ages can understand things at different levels, and they need some earlier media education, it should probably be read in fifth grade and again in high school.  I read it straight through, and I learned a lot, too. Illustrations by Warren Clark – awesome. Patrick liked the sidebars with pictures, examples and charts. I just decided that Ryan is reading this book, too. Look at a sample page.
I called the publisher, Annick Press, in Canada. Marketing manager Brigitte Waisberg told me that the book is “still pretty standard in a lot of media classes in high school” – in Canada, that is – even though it was published in 2003. She said Annick is looking into doing another book on advertising, since a lot has changed in advertising even since this book was written. 
“We know there is a need for something like this,” Ms. Waisberg said. 
There sure is. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that kids are spending nearly 8 hours a day with entertainment media – over ten hours if you consider multi-tasking. But, they get so little help in interpreting what they are seeing. Media literacy is far from becoming a standard part of the curriculum throughout most of this country. Meanwhile, marketers are going all out to find ways to reach children and teens through that media, and to find ways around parents. Marketers are spending $17 billion a year in advertising to children. And their methods are becoming more and more sophisticated. Here in the U.S., we just toss the children out there to the wolves, with little protection in the form of education. It’s like putting them in the desert without even a layer of sunscreen.
The publisher has some lesson plans to go with the book on its web site. Kids and their parents might be interested to learn, for example, that some places – for example, Belgium, Greece, and the province of Quebec – allow no advertising on TV programs for children under 13. Imagine life without the barrage of ads aimed at children. It’s possible – it exists! If other countries do it, that certainly plants the idea that we could do it, too. Hmmm. 
A thank you is due to Lisa Ray at Parents for Ethical Marketing, for letting me know about this book via her list of resources. 
P.S. I ordered the book from Porter Square Books for my school’s library. When I picked it up, the bookseller, Gary, said, “Oh, yeah, a couple of us were looking at this when it came in. This is a really good book.”
“This book should be in every school,” he said. He made a note for the buyers to consider stocking it. 


  1. BRILLIANT idea for kids! I'll have to check my library…

  2. Sounds like a great book for my kids to read this summer. I'll look for it — thanks for the suggestion!

  3. Does the book include anything about Internet advertising? The way web sites glean personal info from one's computer usage to target ads is freaking me out. Wonder how effective it is?

  4. Hi Carol, You probably saw the Wall Street Journal series on this subject. Creepy indeed. book doesn't talk too much about internet advertising specifically. It was published in 2003, and internet advertising is moving fast. But the concepts in the book are still quite valid, and children who understand those concepts would be able to apply them even as the mode of delivery changes. After all, the psychological methods advertisers use cross mediums. Annick Press said they are working on an update, though, since it's true that there are new advertising concerns today.

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