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Witness Paperback – March 1, 2003

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks; Reprint edition (March 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0439272009
  • ISBN-13: 978-0439272001
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (120 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,813 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It is 1924, and a small Vermont town finds itself under siege--by the Ku Klux Klan. Using free verse, Newbery Medal-winning author Karen Hesse (Out of the Dust) allows 11 unique and memorable voices to relate the story of the Klan's steady infiltration into the conscience of a small, Prohibition-era community. The Klan's "all-American" philosophy is at first embraced by several of the town's influential men, including Constable Parcelle Johnson and retailer Harvey Pettibone. But Harvey's sensible wife, Viola, and independent restaurant owner Iris Weaver suspect from the beginning that the Klan's arrival heralds trouble. As the only African Americans in town, 12-year old Leonora Sutter and her father try to escape Klan scrutiny, while 6-year-old, city-born Esther Hirsch remains blissfully unaware of the Klan's prejudice against Jews as she enjoys the Vermont countryside. And Sara Chickering, the lady farmer who has opened her home to Esther and her father, is torn between her own hidden biases and her growing love for Esther.

All, however, are galvanized towards action when a shadowy figure shoots at Esther and her father right through Sara's front door. Who would commit such an evil act? And is it too late to remove the poison that has insidiously leaked into their once tight-knit community? Part mystery, part social commentary, Hesse's historically accurate chronicle is a riveting catalyst for discussion that thoughtfully explores race and identity from every possible point of view. The free verse format and distinct characterizations also make Witness a perfect choice for library or classroom reader's theater productions. (Ages 12 and older) --Jennifer Hubert --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The author of Out of the Dust again turns language into music in her second quietly moving novel written entirely in verse. Here, 11 narrative voices chronicle actual events occurring in a sleepy Vermont town after the arrival of the Ku Klux Klan in 1924. Those victimized by the Klan include the families of Leanora Sutter, a 12-year-old African-American girl, and Esther Hirsh, the six-year-old daughter of a Jewish shoe salesman. Rounding out the portrait of the town are community leaders (an enlightened physician, a newspaper editor who moves from neutral to anti-Klan) as well as less prominent folk shopkeepers, a Protestant minister who are swayed into joining the white supremacist group. Their chorus of hatred rings loudly at first, but is tempered by their dawning realization of the severity of the Klan's punishment to their targets as well as the more rational, compassionate strains of the Klan's opponents. Hesse offers glimpses of the world at large through references to Prohibition, the Leopold and Loeb case and a letter Leanora pens to Helen Keller. The author distinguishes the characters (whose pictures appear in the front of the book) not only by their varying opinions but also by their tone of speech. The simpler, candid language of the two youngest cast members, Leanora and Esther, effectively crystallizes their gradual loss of innocence. Easily read in one sitting, this lyrical novel powerfully records waves of change and offers insightful glimpses into the hearts of victims, their friends and their enemies. Ages 9-12.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

This is why she ended up reading it out loud to me.
Amazon Customer
In this book, Karen Hesse returns to the spare, poetic style of her beautifully written Out of the Dust.
Rebecca Herman
This is an excellent look at a very complicated issue that deals with real people.
Teresa Nowacki

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I have just listened to my nine-year old read this book out loud to me. The book was difficult for her to read by herself, being unfamiliar with the concepts in the book and finding the free verse style unusual at first and she was prepared to give up on the book. This is why she ended up reading it out loud to me. With some orientation from an adult, she then found the book to be fascinating and she put a lot of thought into which of the characters 'made sense' and 'who acquired some sense as the story went on.' This book was probably her first real introduction to the concept of racism. As a parent, I did not know how bad things were going to get in the book, and thus did not know what I might be exposing her to. That is the other reason why I wanted to read it with her, to be able to support her in case there were very traumatic things in the book.
The book proved to be interesting and the content was apppropriate for a nine year old to be exposed to. It was a time of parent-child sharing. It has provoked discussion and will cause us to further expolore these issues and even look up a bit more about some of the details. The 'free verse format' actually worked out very well as the book moved quickly and could be read in a few settings even by a nine year old. By reading it out loud there were lots of opportunities to learn about new words and practice pronunciation. I highly recommend this book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By C. J. Black on January 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The major shortcoming with "OUT OF THE DUST" is perpetuated in "WITNESS"--historical events and characters referenced in the narrative are not chronicled with supplemental information in an "Afterward".
As a 5th grade teacher well-read in trade books for children ages 9-12, this is really disconcerting. Author and publisher are overconfident about historical background knowledge they presume children possess at the time of accessing a book. Appreciation and insight is limited.
In OUT OF THE DUST, references to the Lindberg kidnapping, the Canadian Quintuplets, and even FDR go right over children's heads. It will be the same in WITNESS--Clarence Darrow; the Loeb trial; Prohibition and "rum-running"; the allusion to the death of the son of the president who was Coolige's predecessor; minstrel shows; the racist Hollywood movie endorsed by President Wilson; hoods, burning crosses, and the KKK--even the quaint jargon of the 6 year old female protagonist--all are foreign material for children without background. Many literate adults (myself included) would have to refresh their memory by futher reading of some of these oblique references in Hesse's narrative. I may recall that the KKK enjoyed its highest appeal in the 1920's and made its entry into non-Southern states but I cannot recall the reasons.
The antidote to my criticism--include an Afterward with historical and biographical sketches. At least give children a picture of a KKK rally or even a hate lynching of a "Negro!" And if you can present a historical photo of a KKK meeting in Vermont--all the better!
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By beckyjean VINE VOICE on August 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I usually find novels in verse pretentious at best and unreadable at worst. They never seem to work. I'm glad to say that Karen Hesse's WITNESS is an exception.
The voices are distinct and interesting -- I especially like those of Esther Hirsch and the Pettibones. The "plot" is compelling and not at all predictable. The photographs at the front are a nice touch -- they really create the community and flesh out the voices.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By "seagrave4" on November 29, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Eleven "ordinary sensible hardheaded" Vermonters give eyewitness accounts of Ku Klux Klan activities in this edgy but affirming work by Newbery Award-winner Karen Hesse. The five-act novel opens in small-town northeast America in the time of Prohibition, Calvin Coolidge, and Clarence Darrow. The Klan arrives almost imperceptibly at first, when the town merely seems receptive to bigotry, but the nightriders quickly progress to threats and assaults. Leanora, a black 12-year-old, and Esther, a 6-year-old Jew, bear the brunt of hate, but the racism deeply affects the families, marriages, businesses, and romances of the white Protestant locals as well. A resident of Vermont, Hesse knows her territory: the Klan had thousands of supporters in this isolated rural state in the 1920s until its demise there in 1930. As historical fiction, "Witness" is a vital multicultural alternative to "To Kill a Mockingbird" for freshman discussions of racism in America. As drama, "Witness" can be adapted easily into a reader's theatre production. As poetry, it takes its cue from the village of multidimensional characters in Edgar Lee Masters's "Spoon River Anthology," written only ten years before the time of "Witness." While some conservative parents may object to the book's portrayal of Johnny Reeves, the KKK preacher, the real controversy will surface when students analyze how, in "Witness," racism also destroys the racists. This is a suspenseful, poignant read with very real characters and a high moral ground that should find a place on every teen's required reading list.
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