SPOOKED! by Gail Jarrow

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Fake news. Propaganda. Deceptive advertising. Sensational journalism. In an ideal world, none of us would ever be duped.  But it isn’t always easy to separate truth from lies or news from entertainment. It can be especially challenging when you’re age eleven or twelve.

In SPOOKED!: How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America, I write about people who were fooled by media…eighty years ago. On Halloween Eve 1938, the radio audience heard a dramatization of the H.G. Wells novel, The War of the Worlds. Thousands became convinced that Martians were invading Earth and annihilating every human they could find. The widespread panicked reaction triggered a national discussion about the media’s responsibility, censorship, and Americans’ gullibility—topics we’re discussing right now.

I decided to write about this moment in history for three reasons. First, after talking with middle grade students, I realized that few were aware of the 1938 broadcast. I thought it was an entertaining story that they would enjoy.

Second, as someone with a science background, I know how important it is to analyze information and to think critically. I’m interested in how and why we can be misled into believing something preposterous. The reaction to the radio broadcast shows what can happen when people jump to conclusions.

Third, I saw parallels between 1938 radio listeners accepting the idea of a Martian invasion and 2018 Internet users falling for scams, misinformation, and falsehoods.

As my research for SPOOKED! went on, the book evolved into a story within a story within a story within a story. The original idea belonged to H.G. Wells, who wrote The War of the Worlds in 1897. (My book contains many of the amazing illustrations from the early editions of Wells’s novel.) Next came Orson Welles, John Houseman, and Howard Koch, who used genuine-sounding newsflashes to turn Wells’s novel into an hour-long radio drama. Then came the listeners’ shocking reaction and the sensational newspaper reports about the night’s events. Finally, the brand new story—a myth about the broadcast—was created by a poorly conducted scientific study. For decades, everyone accepted that myth as truth.

I had fun writing SPOOKED! because the research was so intriguing. Martians, both imaginary and almost real. Impressively talented actors and writers whose autobiographies and taped interviews revealed their creative process. Opinionated citizens who wrote letters and telegrams either praising or bitterly complaining about the program. And best of all, the actual broadcast, still spooky and unnerving today.

I wanted readers to enjoy my research discoveries, too. In the book, I share some of the two thousand listener letters, archived at the University of Michigan and the National Archives. With the book’s MG audience in mind, I included letters from children and teens. It’s fascinating to compare the way people in 1938 and 2018 express their opinions. While a few of the radio listener comments may seem a bit shocking to us, others could have come from a social media post today.

In the back matter, I provide links to the original broadcast so that readers can experience it for themselves. I recommend that they listen with eyes closed or lights off. After they hear it, complete with eerie sound effects and music, they might understand why many people were SPOOKED eighty years ago.

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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.


See where Gail has been, and where she’s headed next, on her SPOOKED! Blog Tour:

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What It Means to Be First Generation

Sandra Neil Wallace voting voted in the Primary elections SEPT 2018I became a US citizen on December 16, 2016 at 9:01 a.m. You never forget that moment—it’s etched in your brain and in your soul forever. You remember what you wore (red wool dress, my grandmother’s shawl), how you felt (floating like a balloon, shaky knees, quivering lips), and who you were with. For me, it was a celebration of sisterhood. As Lady Liberty shone on the screen at the front of the state courtroom, I stood shoulder to shoulder with women from Colombia, China, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We soon cried and laughed together hugging and congratulating one another as “my fellow Americans,” as soul sisters, as first generation trailblazers.

Three weeks before, I’d had a much different experience. I sat in a waiting room surrounded by grey walls with my husband holding my hand, whispering, “You’re going to be great,” while I mentally went over the 100 answers to the 100 questions I might be asked by the USCIS officer. I was about to take my US citizenship test, and on the wall in front of me hung framed pictures of movie stars—all of them men and all of them white–who had become naturalized citizens.

But I didn’t stand with white male movie stars when I became a US citizen—I stood beside people who are true reflections of new Americans elevating this country right now. And I thought, “Why aren’t the people in this courtroom reflected in the books kids read?” The next day, Rich Wallace and I began writing FIRST GENERATION: 36 Trailblazing Immigrants and Refugees Who Make America Great.

First Generation can mean two things:

  1. The first member of a family to immigrate to a new country.
  2. Children who are born in that new country to immigrant parents.

Those are the dictionary meanings. But what does it mean in real life? For me, it means everything. I’m the first generation in my family to be born in Canada, and the first to have English as my birth language. I’m also the first to go to university and immigrate to the United States.

DjYNS4HX0AA7LXwThe moniker can be both an honor and a burden: there’s the pressure of expecting to graduate with the highest marks, to earn a top salary that will secure financial freedom for several generations of family members. As we wrote about the first generation trailblazers in our book, it became obvious that these experiences are shared across all cultures, ethnicities, races, genders and classes.

What all of us know, too, is why we are first generation: because of the courage, the grit, and the sacrifices our families made for us. But in so many ways—in the most life-affirming ways–what first gens and immigrants and refugees want is what everyone wants: to belong and be loved, to have a purpose in life, and to be with and to support family.


Growing up, Mazie Hirono–the first Asian-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate–convinced her school to let her work in the cafeteria during lunches and stuffed her earnings into a piggy bank so that her single mom could use it to buy groceries. As a kid, entrepreneur Maria Contreras-Sweet recycled bottles, babysat, and made bows in a flower shop to elevate her family. In college I worked two jobs—one at a radio station, the other at a TV station—to pay for my tuition.

My mother, grandmother and great-grandmother came to Canada after World War II as concentration camp survivors from Yugoslavia, a country that no longer exists. They had become stateless, stripped of their citizenship and their voices. That’s why I was one of the first people in line at the polls for the recent primaries. It was the first time I had a full voice in this country, that I could experience full citizenship and my part in the franchise. The man who opened the door saw my wide grin and asked why I was so enthusiastic just to vote. “First generation,” I proudly told him. And with that he handed me a voting sticker and shook my hand.

Sandra Neil Wallace close-up 2018Sandra Neil Wallace writes biographies for young readers that focus on people who break barriers and change the world, including FIRST GENERATION: 36 Trailblazing Immigrants and Refugees Who Make America Great. An immigrant and daughter of a concentration camp survivor, Sandra broke a gender barrier in sports as the first woman to host an NHL broadcast on national TV. Her titles have been selected as ALA Notable books and awarded Booklist’s Editors’ Choice, Kirkus Best Children’s Books of the Year, and the ILA Social Justice Literature Award. She is a founding-year member of the Keene (NH) Immigrant and Refugee Partnership and an advisor to the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College. Visit Sandra at www.sandraneilwallace.com


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My adolescence was marked by a father leaving. The news came in the mail, in a letter that said my father had a daughter and a son by another woman. We had been replaced.

This knowledge—this replacement—gouged a big, thick crater in me. And there were other things to solidify what it spoke to my heart: Not good enough.

My mother told us over dinner that she’d be divorcing my father. My brother ran. I was too numb to move. My sister was 8 and had never really known our dad, so she kept eating her dinner as though the whole world had not just fallen apart.

I’ve written this experience over and over again. A father leaving. A child coming to terms with the leaving.

My father left in totality. He was not a frequent communicator at the best of times, even when he and my mother were still married, but after the divorce we would go months that stretched into years without hearing from him. The longest time between calls was four years. I was in high school. He had, essentially, disappeared.

The loss of a parent is difficult for children at any stage, but particularly for adolescents. Your brain is undergoing significant changes at this stage of life. Your body is metamorphosing, your thoughts and emotions are a brainstorm.

This is one of the reasons I wrote THE COLORS OF THE RAIN: to show those who have been left behind by a parent that they are seen, they are loved, they are still significant. And, most importantly: They will survive.

The problem is that when you’re going through a situation like this, you’re not talking to other people. You become very insular, trying to figure out what you did wrong, why he left, what you can do to bring him back.

I wanted to start #TheColorsOfTheRain because life’s circumstances—whether it’s a parent leaving or an unexpected sickness or lack of financial resources—can seem particularly overwhelming to adolescents, who are already overwhelmed at this stage of life. But those of us who have been through such circumstances know that there is an end to that story. There is The Other Side. We can point to the color in the rain.

Sometimes the rain has to quench the land’s thirst to produce a beautiful garden. Let’s help adolescents through that rain.

What I’d like you to do is share your own wisdom and encouragement using #TheColorsOfTheRain; I’ll collect them and put them in a central place so when young people need help finding color in their rain, they will find it.

Here’s what I would tell that little girl struggling through her parents’ divorce:

This is not your fault.

You are loved.

There is nothing you did to make him go away and nothing you can do to bring him back.

You are worthy of every good thing that comes your way.

What would you say to a child wading through your childhood circumstances?

. . .

Have something to add to the conversation? Share your wisdom for kids enduring difficult circumstances using the #TheColorsOfTheRain hashtag.

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Rachel Toalson.jpgRachel Toalson is an author, essayist, and poet who regularly contributes to adult and children’s print and online publications around the world. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband and six boys. The Colors of the Rain is her first traditionally published novel. You can visit her online at www.rltoalson.com.


Interview: Big Shot Book Trailer Director, Rob Vlock


This week, we’re talking to Rob Vlock: author, butter sculptor, fish bullying advocate and bigshot book trailer director about his latest (and some say greatest) book trailer.

Belinda von Chucklebutt: Good morning, Rob. It’s a pleasure to have you with us today. You’ve led quite a life. You’re an author, a butter sculptor, fish bullying advocate and bigshot book trailer director. I have to ask you: how do you find the time?

Rob Vlock: It’s a demanding life, no question. And I have to make sacrifices to live it. For example, I only sleep about 14 hours a night. Apart from my daily three-hour nap, that’s all the sleep I get. So, yeah, it’s grueling. But it’s worth it for my art.

BvC: Some critics believe the quality of your butter sculptures has suffered lately because of all the time you’ve been spending writing books and directing book trailers. How would you respond to them?

RV: Frankly, I think they’re dead wrong. I’ve been doing some of the best butter work of my life. I’d say book trailer directing actually helps inspire me to create better butter sculptures than ever. I recently finished a piece that is going to blow everyone away. It’s a tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter sculpted entirely out of butter. I think it’s really going to get people to stop and reflect on what butter really is. And what it isn’t.

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BvC: And what about your fish bullying advocacy work? You’re campaigning to stop fish bullying, is that right?

RV: Actually, no. Totally the opposite. I’m an advocate for bullying fish. For me, it’s a real labor of love. You see, most people think fish can’t hear insults because they’re underwater. And, you know, they don’t have ears. But you can hurt a fish’s feelings. Absolutely. Especially if you make fun of their scales or the stupid way they do that blubbing thing with their mouths. You may not be able to see them in all that water, but there’s nothing sweeter than a fish’s tears.Screen Shot 2018-09-13 at 11.52.15 AM.png

BvC: Let’s move on to your latest book trailer. Tell our readers a little bit about it.

RV: If I weren’t so humble, I’d call it the greatest masterpiece the world has ever seen. It’s a book trailer for the second Sven Carter book, Sven Carter & The Android Army. And, well, spoiler alert, it’s awesome!

BvC: Can we see it?

RV: Sure. Here’s a link to the theatrical release: https://youtu.be/xYhDRaILFgY. And, if you’re a fan of arthouse fare, you’ll love the extended cut. It really makes you think about stuff and things and junk like that: https://youtu.be/HJ7jKj938BQ.

BvC: Do you have any tips for readers who might want to make it big in the exciting and glamorous world of book trailers?

RV: I sure do! Even if you’re not a creative genius like me, you can still make book trailers. All it takes is a book, an idea and some video editing software.

BvC: Can you take our readers through the process?

RV: Yes. Step one: Write or find a book. It doesn’t have to be one of my books (although that really helps), but it should be a book that has a concept you love. It could be a novel, a nonfiction book, even a picture book. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a bigshot book trailer director it’s that you do, in fact, need a book to do book trailers.

BvC: What’s next?

RV: The idea for your book trailer comes next. This is important because you can’t have a book trailer that depicts every single thing from your book. That would be called a movie. So you need to figure out what you want to show from the book. This usually should be something that intrigues the viewer. A big question that needs to be answered. That way your audience will actually want to read the book to find the answer. In the book trailer business, we sometimes call this a teaser. I also sometimes call it a hat-snagger, but for some reason that hasn’t caught on yet.

BvC: You mentioned a third thing?

RV: Indeed I did, Francine.

BvC: It’s Belinda.

RV: Of course it is. Anyway, the third thing you need is some video editing software. A lot of people use iMovie, which comes free on Apple OS and iOS. The cool thing about that is it comes with a trailer template that makes it super easy to use. So, it’s a great option for kids who want to dip their toes into the exciting world of book trailers. But there are other options out there. Like Lightworks and DaVinci Resolve, both of which offer free versions. I use Wondershare Filmora, which cost me a little money, but works well.

BvC: What about sound effects and music?

RV: A lot of video editors come with a limited selection of music and sound effects. But I like to use sites like soundcloud.com and freesound.org. They have huge libraries of free audio files, so you can make sure you’re not using the same background music as everyone else.

BvC: So, before we go, what’s next for Rob Vlock? Where do you go from here?

RV: I’ve been training to compete in this year’s Iditarod, which I think should be pretty fun.

BvC: Iditarod? Wow! Who knew you were into dog sled racing?

RV: Huh? Dog sled racing?

BvC: That’s what the Iditarod is, Rob. It’s a famous long-distance Alaskan dog sled race.

RV: Oh, sorry. I misspoke. I meant the Idiotarob, which a lot of my friends tell me I should be able to win easily.

BvC: I think your friends might just be right. And on that note, goodbye everybody! Thanks for reading!

. . .

Don’t miss out on FOUR WEEKS of Android Army GIVEAWAYS: Follow @robvlock on Twitter to find out how you can win free books, score awesome swag and help support Reach Out and Read between now and October 14, 2018!

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Rob is the author of SVEN CARTER & THE TRASHMOUTH EFFECT (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin) and SVEN CARTER & THE ANDROID ARMY (October 16, 2018, Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). He writes fun, funny, fast-paced kids’ books that are perfect for reluctant readers. And when he’s not writing, you can usually find him somewhere in the greater Boston area trying to make his trumpet sound like something other than a dying goose. It’s a work in progress.

Book Review: WONDERLAND, by Barbara O’Connor

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Wonderland, by Barbara O’Connor, is a heartwarming story of friendship and the challenges of growing up. Mavis is extremely bold. She and her mom move around a lot, but Mavis plans on finding a true best friend. Rose is a worrier but wants to try to be bold and fearless just like Mavis, and she has only one friend, the old gatekeeper known as Mr. Duffy. Unfortunately, after Mr. Duffy’s dog died, he hasn’t been the same. When Mavis and Rose meet and form a Best Friends Club, they are determined to cheer Mr. Duffy up. That’s where the dog Henry comes in. The two best friends go through an adventure to make things right, and learn the true meaning of being a best friend.

Barbara O’Connor’s sweet and amazing story is filled with humor and heart and is a book that you definitely have to read.



My name is Heather, I’m in 5th grade, and I am 11 years old. When I’m not at home reading, I like to ice skate and draw. I love books that are either fantasy or realistic fiction. Writing book reviews is a great way to share an author’s amazing book with other people!

MG at Heart Book Club’s “What Kind of House from THE HOUSE THAT LOU BUILT Should You Live In?” Quiz!

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In the September Middle Grade at Heart book club pick, Mae Respicio’s The House That Lou Built, the main character Lou Bulosan-Nelson is determined to build a tiny house of her own and is an expert on houses in general!

She sometimes compares other people to houses, and at one point in the novel, she says, “I think it’s true that dog owners can resemble their pets, like a guy with shaggy hair and a droopy face might have a dog with shaggy hair and a droopy face. It’s the same with people’s houses. Where they live can echo them.”

Lou visits and discusses many types of houses in the book: tiny houses, mansions, floating houses, painted ladies, Eichlers, and more. Take this quiz to find out which type of house from The House That Lou Built would be the best match for you, and we hope you can join us for our Twitter chat about the book on Tuesday, 10/2 at 8PM EST with the hashtag #mgbookclub!


Book Review: THE SEISMIC SEVEN by Katie Slivensky

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The Seismic Seven by Katie Slivensky was sensational! I loved all the chances in the book for the kids to save the world. The kids were willing to sacrifice to help others and I can relate to that. The kids were responsible and took the initiative to solve problems all the way through the book. The science and geology of Yellowstone National Park was so exciting to read about and made me look up super volcanoes. One happened there 2.1 million years ago and won’t happen any time soon! Drilling into a volcano might not work because the fluid minerals would quickly seal any hole.

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My name is Allegra and I am in fifth grade. I love books and am happy when I am hooked on a good series. Some of my favorites are Harry Potter, The Land of Stories and Spy School. When I am not enjoying a good book, I play lacrosse or act. I also love to travel. I hope I can share the joy of reading with others so that they, too, can find a good book.