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Review of 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
Intermediate, Middle School    Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills    142 pp.
8/18    978-1-62979-776-2    $18.95
e-book ed.  978-1-68437-143-3    $9.99

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.

From the September/October 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education.

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