Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday Spooked blog tour 9.19.19

Artwork by Sarah S. Brannen ©2017
Every Wednesday I join Alyson Beecher from kidlitfrenzy and other
kidlit bloggers to share wonderful nonfiction picture books.
The intention of today's blog post is to give professionals that work in the
education field new nonfiction reading material and ideas to use 
with students to promote a love of reading nonfiction materials.

It seems like you can't pick up a newspaper, listen to a news feed on the radio or browse the internet or your social media sites without seeing and hearing "fake news".  Of course, our current president has made those two words even more famous and even more opposite of what they mean.  But what is fake news?  How do we teach students to be cautious of what they read and what they hear?  Why is this important?  Let's go back to 1938 and see what happens when people believe "fake news".

Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and the War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America
Spooked! How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds
Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America
by Gail Jarrow
published by Calkins Creek

Goodreads summary:
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.

My thoughts:
This was a fascinating read that really made me think about how we believe pieces of information.  It made me think of the game "Telephone".  How with every whisper the meaning of the intended message often changes.  And it made me think of conversations when the picture I create in my mind is different than what the speaker intended.  Or conversations with my 13 year old and how the words that come out of my mouth end up sounding very different in her mind.....

What would it have been like to be in your home, listening to the radio which was a form of not only entertainment but a way to connect you to places all over the nation.  I think about the people listening to the radio on October 30th, 1938.  Perhaps they were multitasking and not paying 100% attention.  Perhaps they put more value in the how authentic this particular radio show sounded.  Perhaps they were thinking of possibilities instead of questioning what was being heard.  

I loved how Gail included what was being said and the impossible timeline between reality and what the radio show said.  As the outsider, you can see the improbabilities of what happened but you can also see how people just believed, and didn't question.

I think this will be a fascinating text to use with students to talk about the importance of questioning facts and not taking them at face value.  The importance of looking at resources (and wow, Gail has added a terrific number of them in the backmatter).  The importance of understanding what "fake news" is and how to ascertain what is real.

I'm always interested in how the author came about their topic and their own background.  I'm thrilled to have author Gail Jarrow stop by and answer some questions!

1.  When you started writing this, did you realize how much it was going to relate to what is going on with "news" in current times?

When I decided on this subject, the "fake news" issue hasn't broken through to the extent it has now.  The timing worked out for me, but I actually came to this topic for a more general reason.  My science training - as well as living with an academic for decades - turned me into a skeptic.  I think young readers need to develop some skepticism in order to navigate their lives successfully.  This led me to find a hoax that illustrated what happens when people aren't skeptical enough.  How do they act when they readily believe and are influenced by media?  I picked the War of the Worlds broadcast because it had the elements of a good story - fascinating creative people, a still-famous science fiction novel, and a surprising audience reaction.

2.  What is the research process like for your books?

Before I settle on a subject, I check the availability of primary sources, excellent images, and secondary sources such as recent academic books and papers.  When I'm ready to start research, I already have this roadmap.  As I go along, I find additional resources in the bibliographies of materials I'm using.  Fortunately, I have access to Cornell University's outstanding library, which almost always has the book I want.  To access primary sources, I travel to archives.  For example, for SPOOKED!, I visited the University of Michigan and the National Archives to read letters that radio listeners wrote to Orson Welles and the Federal Communication Commission.  I locate experts on the topic to broaden my understanding, to clarify information, and to answer lingering questions.

3.  And similarly, what is your organization process like for your longer books?  I can only imagine the notes you must keep!

Everyone has a personal method that works.  Mine is low-tech, but it helps me to organize my thoughts and to keep track of the mountain of information.  It allows me to spread paper out on the floor and cut it apart and reorganize, if necessary.
When I was a student, I never used notecards, and I don't like taking notes electronically.  Writing it out by hand helps to solidify the information in my mind better than typing does.  (I learned this from trial and error, but, in fact, there is research that confirms the cognitive advantage of note-taking by hand.)  I write on notebook-sized paper.  If I've printed out an article, I underline and jot notes directly on the copy.
As I take notes, I keep track of the source and page number of every fact and direct quotation, carrying the citation over to my first draft.  I work with a chapter outline, and I indicate in my notes where the information will go.  This helps me to write the first draft.

4.  What do you hope your audience walks away with after reading your books?

I don't intend my work to be didactic, but each book does have a theme or two, which I hope the reader catches.  For SPOOKED!, one is:  Don't believe everything you read, hear, and see.  I also hope a book kindles curiosity to learn more about the topic.  That's why I include "More to Explore" in the back matter.  If one of my books leads a young person to read more nonfiction books, I'd be delighted.

5.  What books/authors inspired you when you were a middle school/high school reader?

In 8th grade, I won second place in the science fair, and the prize was the book Giants of Medicine.  I really loved reading the biographies of those scientists.  (Sometimes it's better not to come in first.)
During my teen years, my mother subscribed to American Heritage, and the articles fascinated me.  Who knows?  Perhaps these reading experiences still influence me as I write about history, science, and the history of science.

6.  Do you think you write the books you were looking for at that age?

It's more likely that I'm writing books on topics and in a style that I think would have appealed to my own children, the middle grade students I once taught, and my young acquaintances today. 

Thank you again, Gail!

Be sure to stop by the author stops on the SPOOKED! blog tour:

Wednesday, 9/12 KidLit Frenzy
Thursday, 9/13 Deborah Kalb Books
Monday, 9/17 Ms. Yingling Reads
Tuesday, 9/18 Middle Grade Minded
Wednesday, 9/19 Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook
Thursday, 9/20 Middle Grade Book Village (with guest post by Gail Jarrow)
Friday, 9/21 Always in the Middle 

Even more lucky, publisher Boyds Mill has generously donated a copy of Spooked! for a giveaway to one lucky reader (US and Canada only).  Enter by Tuesday, Sept. 25th for your chance to win!


  1. I loved hearing about her process of taking notes and organizing information!

  2. So excited to read this one, since I loved her Bubonic Plague. It sounds like such a great read. Thanks, Michele!

  3. Thx for helping with the commenting. Fixed this time by rebooting, but I will try another browser I think. As for the book, I'm sure it's fascinating. I am old enough to remember sitting by the radio with grandparents listening avidly to the news, hard to imagine what they would have thought with this broadcast. Thanks, Michele for the interview, too.