Witness

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Witness Book Poster Image
Confusing yet compelling tale of racism.
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 12 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

This historical fiction can bring to life something that readers may have encountered in history class. It can certainly lead to some good discussions -- between teacher and class, or among family members. Young readers may want to know more about the Leopold and Loeb case.

Positive Messages

This book provides a provocative look into racism and its permeation into everyday life, and the quiet way decent people stand up to it.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters have different opinions, but readers will be moved by people who change and also stand up to racism.

Violence

A man is shot and injured, a cross is burned, a boy dies when a sandbank collapses on him, the Leopold and Loeb case and other violent news stories are discussed. There is a reference to child molestation.

Sex
Language

Racial epithets are used.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One character smuggles bootleg liquor.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the subject of this book is a great topic for discussion -- racism, its permeation into everyday life, and the quiet way decent people stand up to it. This historical fiction can bring to life something that readers may have encountered in history class. It can certainly lead to some good discussions -- between teacher and class, or among family members.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written by7789 February 17, 2009

I twas a challengingbook for the younger kids

I thought that the book as challenging even for some adults.
Adult Written bydiedie666 April 9, 2008
Teen, 13 years old Written bytotaltuber811 April 9, 2008
Teen, 13 years old Written bykinah94 April 9, 2008

Excellent Book

This book "Witness" is an excellent book for Black History Month!! Even if it is not Black History Month you can still read it. Their is a liitle... Continue reading

What's the story?

Life in a small Vermont town in the 1920s is disrupted when the Ku Klux Klan starts making inroads and picking up adherents there. With their usual tactics of threats, intimidation, and cross burning, they create a climate of fear and division, especially for two young girls, one black and one Jewish. But Vermonters, though certainly racist, don't respond in the same way as the Klan has been used to in the South.

Is it any good?

Written in free-verse poetry, divided into five acts, and told from the point of view of a large cast of characters, this is, at times, a confusing hodge-podge. It would make a better performance piece than it does a novel. Many (though not all) of the characters are listed in the front, with photos, names, ages, and occupations, and many readers will need to refer to this list frequently to keep them all straight.

Much of the style, including the rather flat-footed poetry, the lack of capital letters, and the cute but bizarre dialect invented for Esther, the little Jewish girl, seem arbitrary. Nevertheless, the story, revealed in bits and pieces through the poems, is compelling and holds the reader's interest. And somewhere, some avant-garde high school drama teacher is going to make a terrific little theater piece out of this.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about historical fiction. How is reading this book different than reading an actual history book? This book is set in the 1920s -- why is it important to read stories from the past?

  • This book is written in free verse poetry. Is it easier to read a book like this -- or does it make it harder to follow the story? What would be difficult about trying to write a book like this?

Book details

For kids who love civil rights reads

Our editors recommend

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