* “Sandwiched between a look at Depression-era radios and a set of fanciful period advertisements, McCarthy delivers a semi-serious account of the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast, illustrating both passages from the script and briefly told descriptions of widespread panic with smudgy cartoon scenes featuring bug-eyed monsters and equally bug-eyed people. The author closes with a substantial note that analyzes the broadcast’ immediate and long-term effects, points out that the announcers repeatedly admitted that they were presenting a drama during the broadcast, mentions several later revivals here and internationally and notes the response of H.G. Wells himself to the original production. She has also set up an invitingly designed Web site with an array of relevant links.”
This 578-word non-fiction picture book would be an appropriate story to read around Halloween—it would keep your listeners believing in aliens till the end!
Nugget: People really believed aliens had landed in Grovers Mill, NJ in 1938.
Needs Enticement: The opening spread has an illustration of an announcer with a speech bubble telling kids that in the 1930’s people listened to the radio for their news and entertainment. “Because Americans believed what they heard, they were easily fooled by a radio play that sounded like an actual news bulletin. Here is the story . . .”
Escalation: The announcer describes what the aliens look like and how other cylinders are landing all over the country. . . “WAS THIS THE END OF THE WORLD?” he asks. Much chaos ensues as people react to what they think is really happening.
Satisfying Ending: The 2-page ending spread reveals “Meanwhile, the actors from the Mercury Theatre on CBS Radio continued with their radio show, unaware of the terror they caused outside their door.”
Sources: There is an extensive Bibliography at the back of this book which includes five books and many newspaper articles. A three-page Author’s Note explains the history of the news broadcast.
Show Words (and Pictures): The majority of the book reads like a play because it’s set up with the actual actors’ names and the lines they read . . . all in present tense, like it’s happening right now! I love the way McCarthy used black and white to illustrate the real-world scenes and bright color to illustrate the “alien news” story that was unfolding during the reading of the play.
Why: Children today probably don’t know about this piece of history. In their internet-up-to-the-minute-info-world, they couldn’t imagine how such a thing could really happen. It shows how different the world was when their grandparents and great-grandparents were young—great conversation starter!
Need and Want: There is no main character in this story. The best I can do is say that Orson Welles wanted to put on a play based on the book THE WAR OF THE WORLDS by H. G. Wells. And he thought for it to be successful it needed a twist—“the actors even studied the tapes of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster so that their delivery would contain a convincing sense of urgency”!