CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 13 . . . . December 1, 2017
Although there is much to like in the four books in the "Financial Literacy For Life" series, there are also some weaknesses.
The books in this series all start with the same clear explanation of what financial literacy is.
The books follow the traditional layout for nonfiction text. Each includes a table of contents, glossary, index, and a list of additional resources. The "Further Information" list includes books and websites from both Canadian and American sources.
The layout of text, illustrations, photographs, charts and graphics are colourful and reader-friendly. The message is consistent across the four books. You need to start now to learn to manage your finances.
Topics covered include budgeting, borrowing, short and long term goals, impulse buying, interest, saving, gambling, peer pressure and many other relevant topics.
The books recognize that young readers may have some financial expenses, such as paying for a new cell phone if they drop theirs in a toilet, or paying their own cell phone bill. (Money for Your Life: Invest in Your Financial Future.)
In addition to the strengths of the series, there are also several weaknesses. Some Canadian examples and statistics are used, but the books are primarily written from an American point of view. For example, the section on currency, in "The Bottom Line: Money Basics", looks at "The U.S. Greenback" "…and Canuck Bucks".
Another weakness, in my opinion, is the frequent use of jargon, such as "Will you blow every buck that comes your way?" and "Acceptable Dough to Owe". Maybe it makes the text more accessible to the young readers, but each time I came to one of these uses of jargon, it felt out of place in an otherwise standard nonfiction text.
There is a full explanation of how to pay for a purchase by writing a "check" but no explanation of using bitcoin for payments.
My biggest concern about this series is the emphasis on middle-class expectations and values. The books mention that wealth generally passes down through the generations, allowing those with money to make more money. There is no mention of the difficulties that those born into families with limited financial resources experience. In fact, the message delivered repeatedly in the series is that those families living paycheck-to-paycheck are to blame for that situation.
Financial literacy skills can be useful for everyone, but I would suggest that those who are living paycheck-to-paycheck may be even more likely to know exactly where every dollar goes than people with disposable money to budget for "fun".
The Bottom Line: Money Basics covers topics such as telephone fraud and e-mail scams, impulse buying, setting priorities, the history of currency, and budgeting.
Getting Your Money's Worth: Making Smart Financial Choices includes topics such as hidden costs, credit and debit cards, banking, bartering, spending wisely, charitable donations, and credit unions.
It Doesn't Grow on Trees: Sources of Income examines topics such as child labour laws, net and gross income, passive income and playing the market, risk and reward, real estate investment, starting a business, and tax returns.
Money for Your Life: Invest in Your Financial Future looks at topics such as credit scores, loans, credit cards, simple and compound interest, bankruptcy, insurance, and retirement planning.
These books use middle class examples, such as smart phones, trips, cars, and home ownership, throughout to illustrate points. While these are reasonable examples for a portion of the population, they are not relevant for all of the students in our classrooms. By creating "wants" that may be unattainable by some of the students, these books may contribute to unreasonable expectations, and even frustration and anger.
Students coming to school without breakfast or lunch, relying on foodbanks, or homeless, may find it hard to read some of the statements in these books.
By failing to address financial inequalities, these books do a disservice to our students. The information on the need for, and benefits of, financial literacy is useful, but the presentation is lacking the breadth needed to truly reflect the students in our classrooms.
Recommended with Reservations.
Suzanne Pierson, a retired teacher-librarian, is currently instructing librarianship courses at Queen's University in Kingston, ON.