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8" x 10"
Calkins Creek
ISBN-13: 978-1-62979-776-2
Full-color and black-and-white archival images
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About the Book


A 2019 Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor Book

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.


*“Notable nonfiction author Jarrow (Fatal Fever, 2015) sets the stage…(w)ith intriguing details, complemented by rarely seen archival photos and illustrated scenes from Wells’ original story…highlighting elements used to heighten the tension. Numerous and astounding reactions to the panic…are also described. Although interesting in its own right, the author extrapolates on this phenomenon, comparing it to today’s fake news controversy. 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.” –Booklist, starred review  

*“In an era of alternative facts and fake news, telling the story of the infamous 1938 radio broadcast that convinced thousands of Americans a real-time Martian invasion of Earth was occurring could not be timelier. In a finely detailed narrative nearly as riveting as the broadcast…Jarrow deftly connects history to current events by comparing the phenomenon to contemporary fake-news controversies and ongoing freedom-of-press debates. Attractively designed, the text is complemented with archival photos of the broadcast and illustrated scenes from Wells' original story. A grippingly told story that adeptly makes history fascinatingly relevant to the present.” – Kirkus Reviews, starred review  

*“With a succinct and engaging story, Jarrow informs readers about the 1938 The War of the Worlds broadcast and why it became so famous. (She) contextualizes the climate in which the program aired (and)… keeps readers involved in the fact-packed story. (M)asterfully written…with unobtrusive interjections…Jarrow effectively uses full-page spreads…(and) allows readers to evaluate current events in light of this notorious event. Jarrow concludes with a with a well-organized list of online resources. A skillfully written title that deserves space in middle and high school libraries”. - School Library Journal, starred review  

*“Jarrow sets the stage perfectly in this detailed, illuminating exploration of why ordinary Americans panicked when they heard a broadcast of New Jersey being invaded by Martians on Oct. 30, 1938… Jarrow’s engrossing analysis of an earlier era’s ‘fake news’ provides timely reminders to readers, which are underscored in her author’s note. An extensive 'More to Explore' section, illustrations from a 1906 edition of Wells’s novel, period photos, timeline, source notes, and a bibliography round out this handsome volume.“– Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Jarrow presents a detailed examination...(t)he book does an excellent job of recreating the broadcast itself with inserted annotations (and)…the takeaway lesson in thoughtful media consumption emerges effortlessly from this cautionary tale.” - The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review

Meet the Author

Gail Jarrow

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.
An Interview with Gail Jarrow

Q. Why did you choose to write about the 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast?

A. The broadcast and its aftermath create a fascinating true story filled with dynamic characters, powerful emotions, and unexpected twists. It’s really three stories: the original H.G. Wells novel, the radio play by Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre, and the reaction to the broadcast. When I did an informal survey of middle-school students, I discovered that most of them had never heard about the broadcast. It’s such an entertaining and relevant piece of history that I decided it was a story worth telling.

Q. The broadcast took place eighty years ago. What makes it relevant to today’s world?

A. In 1938, radio was still new. One reason the broadcast fooled people was because they hadn’t yet learned to think critically about what they heard over the airwaves. Today we’re all adjusting to the power and pitfalls of the Internet. What’s true? What’s a deliberate lie? What’s rumor? How can we avoid being manipulated?

In Spooked!, I share dozens of comments (pro and con) from listeners who wrote to Orson Welles, the Mercury Theatre, and the Federal Communications Commission after the broadcast. Some letters and telegrams are interesting because they reveal a mindset and vocabulary we’re not used to hearing. But others sound as if they could have been plucked from today’s social media.

Q. Many of your previous books, including Bubonic PanicFatal Fever, and Red Madness, are about the history of medicine. Why the change in subject matter with this one?

A. Spooked! actually has many similarities to those books. The Deadly Diseases trilogy focused on mistaken medical beliefs in the early twentieth century and the scientific research that corrected those views. As I worked on the trilogy, I was struck by how easily people fell into false ideas and held onto them despite evidence to the contrary. I wanted to explore this further by writing about a hoax from history. My science training taught me to question assumptions, to be skeptical, and to look for errors in reasoning. Spooked!shows what happens when people don’t do that.

Q. Tell us about your research process for this book. How did you gather information?

A. First, I listened to the recording of the radio broadcast—many times—and imagined what it was like to hear the words eighty years ago when everyone was nervous about a war breaking out. Next, I studied first-person accounts of that night, including memoirs, interviews, personal correspondence, and news film. I read more than two thousand letters and telegrams sent by listeners who described their reaction to the broadcast.

By the time I finished, I felt as though I had traveled back to October 1938 in a time machine. Using my research, I tried to take the reader back in time, too, to the New York City radio studio and into America’s living rooms on the night of the broadcast.

Q. Did your research reveal any surprises?

A. I had always heard that Orson Welles intended the radio program to be a hoax and that most of the country fell for it. After digging into the lives of the broadcast’s creators, I learned what their intentions truly were. I was also surprised to find that a flawed scientific study of the broadcast’s aftermath led to the decades-long myth of a mass panic. That goes to show how our understanding of the past changes when new information is uncovered.

Q. What can we expect from you next?

A. My next book, The Poison Squad, investigates the hidden dangers of food and drugs in the early 1900s. Most people never suspected that they were ingesting poisons and contaminants. How did a coalition of scientists, physicians, and concerned consumers lead the way in protecting Americans from those hazardous substances . . . then and now?

More About This Author
Other Books by Gail Jarrow