Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial Book Poster Image
Evolution case in brief poems about the locals.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Some of the townspeople are racists and religiously intolerant, but most are not.

Violence
Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cigars and cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there is little to be concerned about here, unless you'd rather your child not learn about the debate about teaching Evolution.

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What's the story?

John Scopes is a young high school science teacher in 1925 Tennessee who is arrested when he teaches a class on Darwin's Theory of Evolution. This book tells the story of his trial through a series of poems from the points of view of various fictional townspeople -- teens and adults -- and a reporter. Includes Character List, Author's Note, and Bibliography.

Is it any good?

Though the Scopes Trial is an inherently fascinating moment in American history, this serviceable introduction to it focuses mainly on its impact on residents of the town. There are the teen friends who are split by the debate; an African-American teen who is educating himself and inspired to dream of becoming a lawyer; a woman who runs a small hotel; and others. Each is a real and distinct character, and through them the reader gets snippets of what happened in the courtroom, and of the nation's avid, but short-lived attention.

Novels written in verse are a burgeoning genre, but it's hard to see what that format adds here. Usually the format is chosen either because it relates to the theme (biographies of poets, stories of children who love or are learning about poetry, etc.), or because it is a way to add a lyrical, metaphorical layer to the story. But the verse here is rather flat-footed and, well, prosy. It does have the advantage of making what looks like a medium-length book a pretty quick read, so RINGSIDE might be a good choice for reluctant readers. For any class learning about the trial it can serve as a quick way in. But it would have worked just as well, and without any rewriting at all, as a shorter, prose book.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the debate, which continues today. Should Evolution be taught in schools? What about Creationism or Intelligent Design? Why do science and religion sometimes seem to be at odds throughout history? Children may also be interested in learning more about the Scopes Trial -- see below for a few places to start.

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