Jim Murphy’s bio states that he carefully researches his nonfiction and has won awards such as two Newbery Honors, a Sibert Medal, and the Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award. I feel like these accomplishments give him credentials worthy of the book he’s written.
The book does not have in-text citations, but the last few pages of the book are Source Notes, divided by chapter, that give extra details on things mentioned in the text. Since information is not given as parenthetical documentation or footnotes, I feel like this is the best way to appeal to children, and I feel like they would read the entire book, including the source notes.
The book is told chronologically, from the time the giant was discovered until he was retired in a museum. There are a few flashbacks to explain how the giant was created and planted, and the book ends by focusing on a modern day hoax that National Geographic fell for. The book starts with a cast of characters and what parts they played. Chapters are titled according to the major action that occurs during the text. After the conclusion of the giant’s story, there are brief summaries of other famous hoaxes. Source notes are included, as well as a bibliography, photo credits, and an index. There is also a detailed section about the author’s research process.
This book is fairly text-heavy, but the font is larger and more spaced out than typical 12 point, single-spaced formats. This makes it easier to read - even on the pages where there are no photographs or illustrations. All of the artwork included in this book is historical; it’s not illustrated like an informational storybook. The photographs have dates and credits, the illustrations are most frequently political comments from newspapers of the time, and scans of relevant promotional booklets and posters are included. Though even the artwork is informational, the book does not seem boring or a heavy-handed history book.
The book is written fairly formally, but it does not make it hard to read. Because the subject is so interesting, it’s hard to feel like you’re learning something as you read this book. In “A Word About My Research,” Jim Murphy explains that he became interested in the topic because he wanted to learn about Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme. I think this is a great way to engage readers because he portrays himself as a regular guy, curious about the things around him. I think children can relate to this, and might even suggest reading this section before starting the book, as interesting as the hoax topic is on its own.
Publishers Weekly says “Although a significant number of players are involved, the narrative’s 12 chapters move swiftly, with period photos helping to break up the text-heavy pages (printed in brown ink). Contextualizing this scam against the wider backdrop of the Gilded Age, Murphy adeptly explains how hoaxes like the Cardiff Giant helped accelerate reforms, such as the establishment of professional scientific organizations and journals.”
Jim Murphy has written many other books that children may be interested in, such as:
The Great Fire. ISBN 9780439203074
Blizzard!: The Storm That Changed America. ISBN 9780590673105
An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. ISBN 9780395776087
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