- Age Range: 10 and up
- Grade Level: 5 and up
- Lexile Measure: 890L (What's this?)
- Paperback: 112 pages
- Publisher: Running Press Kids (June 29, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0762437456
- ISBN-13: 978-0762437450
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #861,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Get Real: What Kind of World are YOU Buying? Paperback – June 29, 2010
"How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals" by Sy Montgomery
“This is a beautiful book — essential reading for anyone who loves animals and knows how much they can teach us about being human.” ― Gwen Cooper, author of "Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat" Pre-order today
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From School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up–Rockliff outlines how mass consumerism is harming our planet, and specifically how teens can use their purchasing power to enact change. She cites examples of products that teens use frequently (high-tech electronics, clothing, junk food, etc.) and explains how their production often harms the people who make them, the environment, and, potentially, the end consumer. She explains that a chocolate bar was most likely made with cacao beans harvested by exploited workers, and that a cell phone contains enough heavy metals to seriously harm our groundwater. She covers (un)fair labor practices, environmental pillaging, factory farming, excessive marketing, local vs. corporate stores, and the pervasive throwaway mentality that drives the whole cycle. The author's in-your-face approach makes her points while still engaging readers–she is never didactic or overbearing. She encourages teens to make a difference in their world by making small changes to things they do already–buying fair-trade chocolate or saving up for an organic cotton T-shirt. The pop-art illustrations are clever and illustrative of many points. The impressive bibliography provides lists of documentaries, websites, books, articles, and other sources to help teens find out how their favorite products came to be (and came to be so cheap). Learning more about how these products are made just might make some teens think twice about their buying habits.Lisa Crandall, formerly at Capital Area District Library, Holt, MI
© Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This sturdy paperback points out plenty of practical ways for kids to impact their world by making different choices about what food to eat, what clothes to wear, how often to replace a cell phone, and more. Chapter by chapter, this gives specifics on topics such as bottled water, sweatshops, and toxic chemicals leaching from discarded electronic equipment into landfills; offers suggestions on how to make a difference; and follows up with titles of related books and films. Rockliff also discusses the limitations of recycling and warns about corporate “greenwashing.” Nicely designed, the book has colorful graphic elements on many pages, including photographs and eye-catching digital images incorporating photos. The extensive back matter includes a lengthy list of sources as well as lists of recommended books, Internet sites, and films. A clearly written guide for readers who want to translate social and environmental awareness into action. Grades 6-9. --Carolyn Phelan
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But, despite the book's virtues, I ultimately can't recommend it. While I happen to agree with much of Rockliff's argument, I found her book too myopic in its vision and too disingenuous in its presentation of the facts to be taken seriously. While reading Get Real I couldn't help but sense that I was only being shown one side of the coin--especially when the topic was economics--and that many voices were being stifled in the interest of advancing an agenda. This is especially intolerable, given that this book purports to help young people become savvy, informed citizens who think for themselves.
I'll share a few examples of what I mean. And, in doing so, I don't mean to suggest that I disagree with all of Rockliff's premises. Rather, I am trying to reveal what I believe to be irresponsible and faulty argumentation.
There is a chapter devoted to exposing the evils of the clothing industry, in an attempt to persuade young people to withhold their money from any company that is in some way connected to sweatshops. This chapter features a picture of two young Chinese girls using clothespins to keep their eyelids in a perpetual state of awake-ness. A hypothetical letter written from a fictional Chinese girl to American consumers that takes up an entire page informs readers: "My life wasn't always like this. I used to be a normal girl. I went to school. I helped around the house. I hung out with my friends. I want to go home, but I can't" (32). The assumption communicated to young readers is, of course, that in purchasing jeans from companies that rely on sweatshop labor, we are, in some sense, complicit in the oppression of these young girls. But, in their book Half the Sky authors Kirstof and WuDunn argue the opposite: "Sweatshops [in the developing world] have given women a boost. Americans mostly hear about the inequalities of garment factories and they are real...yet many women and girls still stream to such factories because they're preferable to the alternative of hoeing fields all day back in the village. In most poor countries, women don't have many job options. In agriculture, for example, women...are paid less. Yet in the manufacturing world, it's the opposite. The implication is that instead of denouncing sweatshops, we in the West should be encouraging manufacturing in poor countries, particularly in Africa and the Muslim world...[which] would create large numbers of jobs for women...and bring in more capital--and gender equality" (210-211).
Rockliff should be applauded for her sincere attempts to teach young readers about corporate greed and the injustice done in the name of money. But, while her diagnoses are often spot on, her prescriptions, however well-intentioned, are specious. For example, Rockliff extols the virtues of the fair trade movement while ignoring a whole host of economists who fear its disastrous unintended consequences. One such economist, Amrita Narlikar of Cambridge University, argues that the fair trade movement hurts third world economies because 1) poor farmers often find it difficult and costly to get fair trade certified, 2) farmers who are unable to get fair trade certified may experience depressed wages as all the profitable business goes to fair trade farmers and 3) it lessens the incentive to farm non-fair-trade crops, which means that poor consumers have fewer food choices at their market places. According to Narlikar and other economists who share her concerns, the fair trade movement might help individual fair trade farmers, but it will do more harm than good at the macro level. Perhaps there are worthy counterarguments to all of these concerns; however, the reader won't hear them from Rockliff.
In addition, there are more than a few places where Rockliff's argument is confusing and contradictory. On one page, she encourages readers to support OpenEntry, a neat program that allows third-world artisans to sell their goods directly to first-world consumers, cutting out the middleman entirely, and then on another page admonishes kids to only "buy local." Even more befuddling is her schizophrenic attitude about the role of government in bringing out positive societal change. When it's convenient, she criticizes the EPA and laments the fact that other Western countries are much more protective of their environments than the U.S. But then, in another chapter very critical of American corporations, she writes, "Corporations are not of the people, by the people, for the people. Government is. From local school boards and town councils right up to presidents and prime ministers, democratic governments exist to do what's best for us (94). I personally didn't find this bit of cheerleading all that convincing, given that, a few chapters earlier, she makes the American government appear utterly useless when it comes to preserving the environment. Equally confusing are moments when she praises "green" companies while maintaining an attitude of suspicion toward free market economics. I kept wanting to ask her, how do you think those wonderful "green" companies exist in the first place?
It's bad enough that the book's argumentation is weak, but the tone with which it is written is almost worse. I realize that it's designed for a young adult audience and is thus calibrated to meet their cognitive needs. But, I still found it's "after school special" humor--clean enough so as to not offend parents and teachers but edgy enough to ostensibly engage teens--to be utterly patronizing and distracting. I can already hear someone reminding me that I'm thirty and not thirteen, so of course the humor doesn't appeal to me, but I can distinctly remember my teenage self silently cringing at adults when they affected this kind of faux humor, peppered with phrases like "Don't gag," "Reality check time!" and "Yeah, right." (All real examples from this book.) Newsflash: REAL TEENS DON'T TALK THIS WAY. THEY THINK THE SAME THINGS ARE FUNNY THAT WE DO. It's exactly the kind of "pablum" that journalist Amanda Ripley argues is being fed too readily to American students in her book The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way
And far more troubling are the moments in which this humor belies the author's supposed concern for the issues addressed in her book. Here's an example: "On bigger plantations, fair trade requires safe and healthy work conditions and a living wage for hired laborers. (And, duh...no kid-napped child slaves)" (77). Is she really trying to get a laugh here? Someone might argue that this kind of humor is necessary to get teenagers interested. To that, I would reply 1) My seven years of professional teaching experience with teens tells me that they are far smarter than we give them credit for and, when treated like the emerging adults that they are, will rise to the occasion, and 2) If a teen needs this kind of humor in order to keep reading, then perhaps he's not yet intellectually prepared to contend with these issues.
I do believe that Mara Rockliff is well-intentioned in writing this book, and I appreciate many of these concerns. But, if I had a teenager interested in learning about economics and the environment, I could not, in good conscience, refer her to this book. It's not serious enough, even for the young adult audience it's trying to reach.