Friday, March 22, 2019

Spooked! How a radio broadcast and The War of the Worlds sparked the 1938 invasion of America by Gail Jarrow

Jarrow writes fascinating and well-researched narrative nonfiction about little-known periods in history. This latest book is about Orson Welles's 1938 dramatized radio broadcast of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds, which sparked a panic. Or did it?

From Welles's childhood and rise to fame, to worldwide events preceding World War II that contributed to the results, to the effect of radio and the reaction of newspapers, Jarrow has written an excellent account of the phenomena that is enshrined in popular myth and history as a major panic, demonstrating the gullibility of the American people. Readers will learn that fake news and hoaxes are certainly no new phenomena and perhaps even reflect on their own media consumption.

But, will there be readers? I found this fascinating - I knew of the Welles broadcast in a general way, although I'd never learned more details about it. I enjoyed the way Jarrow starts out with an attention-grabbing story of invasion and ends with the careers of those involved; many were blacklisted during the red scares and eventually moved away from the entertainment industry. She also did a great job of carefully researching her sources and evaluating the studies and reasons why newspapers hyped the effects, as well as how it affects news today. Unfortunately, I've found that Calkins Creek titles don't get a wide range of readers. They're textually fairly challenging, requiring a fluent and mature reader. Ideally, I'd give them to middle schoolers but there just aren't that many middle schoolers willing or able to read a thoughtful nonfiction title on an obscure historical event, no matter how well-written it is.

Verdict: I'm glad this is available in my system, but I can't justify buying it. I will probably pull it for 5th grade inquiry topics - some kids have chosen "hoaxes" in the past and this would be ideal - and see if that generates enough interest to make it worth purchasing.

ISBN: 9781629797762; Published 2018 by Calkins Creek; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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