Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America by Gail Jarrow. August 7, 2018. Calkins Creek Books, 144 p. ISBN: 9781629797762. Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.8; Lexile: 1000.
Acclaimed author Gail Jarrow explores in riveting detail the famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast from 1938, in this nonfiction title. Jarrow highlights the artists behind the broadcast, the broadcast itself, the aftermath, and the repercussions which remain relevant today.
On the night of October 30, 1938, thousands of Americans panicked when they believed that Martians had invaded Earth. What appeared to be breaking news about an alien invasion was, in fact, a radio drama based on H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds, performed by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre players. Some listeners became angry once they realized they had been tricked, and the reaction to the broadcast sparked a national discussion about fake news, propaganda, and the role of radio. Archival photographs and images, as well as an author’s note, timeline, bibliography, and index round out this stellar nonfiction title.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: None
Booklist starred (June 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 19))
Grades 5-8. Orson Welles and his colleagues were certain their radio broadcast of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds would be a flop. Instead, on Halloween eve 1938, it shook the nation with fear of alien attack. Why were Americans so gullible? Notable nonfiction author Jarrow (Fatal Fever, 2015) sets the stage, or rather the living rooms, for a time when listening to radio broadcasts ranked as the country’s favorite pastime. With intriguing details, complemented by rarely seen archival photos and illustrated scenes from Wells’ original story, she explains how this medium worked and how actor Orson Welles designed, directed, and voiced popular radio dramas, along with the other writers, performers, and sound technicians for the Mercury Theatre program. Jarrow then pieces together the script and performance, highlighting elements used to heighten the tension. Numerous and astounding reactions to the panic, including an influx of emergency telephone calls, are also described. Although interesting in its own right, the author extrapolates on this phenomenon, comparing it to today’s fake-news controversy. In this vein, readers can see how some panicked listeners didn’t check other sources, while others enjoyed the drama by following its clues. Ensuing freedom of the press debates and a sampling of modern-day social media hoaxes extend the theme. An enriching bridge that connects history with current events.
Horn Book Magazine (September/October, 2018)
In 1938, on the night before Halloween, an American radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells’s science-fiction novel about a Martian invasion, caused widespread panic and hysteria. Producers Orson Welles and John Houseman (who later went on to have legendary careers in theater and film) updated the novel’s setting from turn-of-the-century Britain to contemporary America, interrupted the scheduled program with fake news updates, referenced real place names, and even used an actor who sounded like President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Jarrow infuses her tightly plotted narrative with plenty of drama and suspense while weaving in sufficient background information, biographical vignettes, and play-by-play commentary to establish context. She concludes with a discussion of some subsequent hoaxes—and the requisite author’s note, source notes, bibliography (including a link to the radio broadcast itself online), and index. Meghan McCarthy’s picture book Aliens Are Coming! (rev. 7/06) tells the same story for a younger audience, but this longer account is welcome: despite its somewhat stodgy design, it’s an admirable feat of nonfiction storytelling.
About the Author
Gail Jarrow is the author of many popular nonfiction books, including Red Madness, Fatal Fever, and Bubonic Panic. Her books have received numerous starred reviews, awards, and distinctions, including Best Book awards from the New York Public Library, School Library Journal, the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Kirkus Reviews, and the National Science Teachers Association.
Her website is www.gailjarrow.com
War of the Worlds Lesson Plans
War of the Worlds Broadcast to teach Media Literacy on Newseum
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