October 19, 2015

What really happened in Salem?

The Salem Witch Trials: An Unsolved Mystery from History
by Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple

The book begins with a short introduction narrated by a young girl. She wants to be a detective like her father. They're interested in historic unsolved mysteries and the Salem witch trials is one of them. The trials took place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. A number of girls fell ill and no one knew why. A local doctor declared them bewitched. In the hysteria that followed, over one hundred people, mainly women, had been declared witches and nineteen were hanged.

The story's layout is similar to that of a free-verse poem. This structure ensures that the basic facts are simply related. Historical context is provided in a separate text box, designed to look like pages from a detective's notebook. Other boxes act as a glossary which define key words used in both story and notes. The book ends with five possible hypotheses to explain the mystery, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions.

An interesting way to teach history and to spark investigative research. Don't overlook the bibliography, which is included on the title page. The pictures are good too.

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