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It was an ordinary night in October of 1938 until a news bulletin interrupted the dance music on CBS radio–aliens were invading the United States!
Meghan McCarthy’s hilarious Aliens Are Coming! tells the true story of the Halloween radio prank that duped much of the country into believing that Martians had invaded. The book uses excerpts from the actual War of the Worlds radio broadcast and includes information about the importance of radios in the 1930s (before the time of televisions and computers) as well as facts about Orson Welles and H. G. Wells, author of the novel on which the broadcast was based.
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Grade 3-6-In this picture-book account of the 1938 broadcast of Orson Welles's adaptation of H. G. Wells's novel, the author employs several creative methods to transport readers back to the heyday of radio. She leads into the story with a punchy introduction to the period, which is delivered in the form of a speech bubble by a smiling radio announcer. From there, black-and-white illustrations depict a family listening to an ordinary broadcast, which is interrupted by reports of an alien invasion. For the rest of the book, events described on the radio appear in lurid color illustrations reminiscent of old science-fiction magazines, while events in the real world remain in black and white. Excerpts from the actual radio play describe a vicious extraterrestrial attack, while the text describes the pandemonium ensuing outside the radio station and across the country. In the end, McCarthy reveals that the invasion was just a story, and an author's note gives a more detailed account of the play's creation and broadcast. In the spirit of the original, the author does not reveal the fact that the broadcast was actually a play until the end. This conceit would make the book a great read-aloud to introduce a unit on the 1930s. The interplay between the text of the play and the author's description of actual events is effective, and the illustrations are exaggerated and funny. A unique treatment of a fascinating topic, and sure to have wide appeal.-Rachael Vilmar, Atlanta Fulton Public Library, GA
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Gr. 1-3. In an average American living room of 1938, folks gather around the radio for a night's entertainment, when there's a new bulletin: "Aliens are coming!" Orson Welles' infamous Halloween trick, his October 30 broadcast of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds, is greatly excerpted and put together with quirky, imaginative artwork that reinforces the fantasy. McCarthy sets the scene in a preface, ostensibly delivered by a radio commentator, and clearly identifies the speakers in colored type before each quote. Using a 1930's art style, and a palette comprising mostly muted grays and reds, McCarthy evokes an era gone by, at the same time creating a cozy nostalgia. Even somewhat older, media savvy kids, who may view the gullibility of the characters with a disdainful eye, will be disarmed by the depictions of panicked faces and slimy Martians, eyes on stalks, that appear amid eerie red light. An abrupt ending notwithstanding, this is packed with age-appropriate thrills and scares. A lengthy author's note includes necessary background on both figures. Jesse Karp
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