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Witness by Karen Hesse


by Karen Hesse

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This book has eleven characters. Eleven. It is set in the year 1924 and revolves around two girls who have lost their mothers and the Ku Klux Klan takes notice. The story is told in verse, but it will take an astute reader to notice the different voices. It is set in Vermont, out of the typical southern setting you would expect. There is a theme of hope in this short (100-page book). ( )
  hjbush | Jul 28, 2018 |
This is a year in the life of a small American town. The year is 1924, and a town in Vermont has been invaded by an insidious menace: the Ku Klux Klan. Although the story is told through the voices of many characters, two young girls -Leanora Sutter and Esther Hirsh - lie at the heart of the novel. One is black, the other Jewish; neither is welcome in their provincial Vermont village. Their struggle to maintain a normal childhood in the midst of poverty and prejudice is threatened by the arrival of the Klan.
As support for the Klan grows, so does the potential for violence. The aura of impending crisis draws out the villains and heroes that lie hidden in this sleepy town and reveal each character's surprising capacity for growth and change. With her breathtaking poetry, Karen Hesse has captured the spirit of a town on the brink - the brink of disaster, the brink of redemption.
  unsoluble | Jun 4, 2018 |
Written in verse. Told from the perspectives of various townspeople both for and against the KKK that has taken residence in Vermont. A black family and Jewish family are the object of their ridicule. Grades middle school and up. ( )
  valorrmac | May 15, 2018 |
A verse novel, Witness by Karen Hesse tells the stories of residents of a Vermont town in 1924. Each section is written in first person from the point of view of one of a variety of characters. Divided into five acts, Witness crosses genres - from poetry to novel, verse to monologue. I enjoyed reading this book, though I faced the same difficulties I face when reading plays: with no visual or context clues, I struggle to keep the characters straight. About halfway through I gave up remembering the individual story life of each person and focused on enjoying the book as a whole. I read this as a paired reading with The History of the K.K.K., and Witness does what any good narrative does - lends humanity to events that are otherwise too shocking to be true. Listening to the horrific effects of the K.K.K. voiced in the monologues of this book was striking; I imagine any realistic story involving the K.K.K. is striking. This is a good book to keep in a classroom library, and I would recommend it to readers interested in verse novels or in historical fiction. I found that reading it alongside a nonfiction selection was especially powerful and I would suggest - but not require -
that other readers do the same. ( )
  cskaemmerling | May 7, 2017 |
Witness is a beautiful and unique middle grade book. This book is divided into a series of poetic first person narratives. Each chapter presents a tableau or stream of consciousness account of a small town. Diverse characters perspectives are woven together, each examining the life of a town overrun by the Klan.

The perspectives in the book range from a young African American girl to a zealous Klan preacher to a white couple divided by their views, but those views, along with the humanity of each of the characters, progress through the course of the book.

The writing itself is exceptional, as is this book's ability to look unblinkingly at the horrors of humanity while still giving hope for our future.

I read this book alongside the young adult non-fiction, They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group. This second informed my reading immensely, and I highly recommend the pairing. ( )
  jcelliot | Apr 19, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices, 2002)
The only Black residents of a small Vermont community in 1924 are 12-year-old Leanora Sutter and her father. Six-year-old Esther Hirsh and her father are the only Jewish people in the town. Both families become targets of the Ku Klux Klan in Karen Hesse's compelling novel. This story, told through free verse poems in the voices of 11 characters, addresses the impact of hatred on its victims as well as the moral implications of those who commit violent actions and those who do nothing to stop them. In addition to the two girls, Hesse's characters include a fire-and-brimstone preacher whose actions defy his teaching; the farmer who houses the Hirshes and who comes to love the little girl and admire her father, despite her discomfort with the fact that they are Jewish; a shopkeeper who becomes more and more involved with the Klan; the town constable, who is reluctant to get involved until events take an almost-tragic turn; and a teenager who is at first enamored of the Klan but later is unable to carry out their wishes. It can be a bit difficult to keep everyone straight. But a character list at the start of the novel, along with a photograph representing each fictional character, provides a helpful reference. The 11 characters, and the actions they take, affect one another deeply over the course of the story. It is in that ability to affect -- and connect -- that hope can be found in this novel set against the backdrop of racism and complacence. CCBC categories: Fiction for Young Adults; Poetry; Historical People, Places, and Events. 2001, Scholastic Press, 161 pages, $16.95. Ages 12 and older.
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And in this yard stenogs, bundle boys, scrubwomen, sit on the tombstones, and walk on the grass of graves, speaking of war and weather, of babies, wages, and love. --From "Trinity Peace" by Card Sandburg
To Jean Feiwel
First words
i don't know how miss harvey

talked me into dancing in the fountain of youth.
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2001 edition: Witness / Karen Hesse
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Book description
Leanora Sutter, Esther Hirsh, Merlin Van Tornhout, Johnny Reeves...These characters are among the unforgettable cast inhabiting a small Vermont town in 1924-a town that turns against its own when the Ku Klux Klan moves in. No one is safe, especially the two youngest, twelve-year-old Leanora, an African-American girl, and six-year-old Esther, who is Jewish. In this story of a community on the brink of disaster, told through the haunting and impassioned voices of its inhabitants, Newberry Award winner Karen Hesse takes readers into the hearts and minds of those who bear witness. (0-439-27200-9)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0439272009, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:46 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

A series of poems express the views of various people in a small Vermont town, including a young black girl and a young Jewish girl, during the early 1920s when the Ku Klux Klan is trying to infiltrate the town.

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