Cover image for Witness
Hesse, Karen.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Scholastic Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
161 pages : portraits ; 20 cm
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.
Reading Level:
NP Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 5.0 2.0 54110.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.9 6 Quiz: 25601 Guided reading level: W.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
FICTION Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
FICTION Young Adult Fiction Popular Materials-Young Adult
FICTION Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
FICTION Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
FICTION Young Adult Fiction Young Adult

On Order



In 1924 Vermont, a small town falls under the influence of the Ku Klux Klan. Two girls, Leanora Sutter and Esther Hirsh, one black and the other Jewish, are among those who are no longer welcome in their community. As the potential for violence escalates, heroes and villains are revealed, and everyone in town is affected. From the author of the Newbery Medal-winning "Out of the Dust".

Author Notes

Karen Hesse (born on August 29, 1952 Baltimore, Maryland) is an American author of children's literature and literature for young adults. She studied theatre at Towson State College, and finished her undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland in English, Psychology, and Anthropology. In 1998 she won the Newbery Medal for her young adult novel, Out of the Dust.

Hesse lives in Vermont with her husband and two teen-aged daughters.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 5-9. Using real events, Hesse tells a story of the Ku Klux Klan in a small town in Vermont in 1924 in the same clear free-verse as her Newbery winner, Out of the Dust (1997). This time, however, she uses 11 different voices, each one distinct, including two kids who are new to town--Leonora Sutter, 12, who is black, and Esther Hirsh, 6, who is Jewish. Then there are various adult townspeople: the violent Klan bigots (who attack "those who are not like us" in the name of Protestantism and patriotism), the antiracist crusaders, and the bystanders. Most interesting is Merlin, 18, who starts off in flaming hatred but changes. Then there's the affectionate married couple--he's in the Klan; she's against it. Their comic squabbles about it are fun, until you realize how serious the issue is. The story is told in five acts, and, in fact, it will work best as reader's theater. It's more a situation than a straight narrative, with too many characters and too many plot threads that aren't fully developed. But Hesse's spare writing leaves space for readers to imagine more about that time and about their own. The voices personalize the history and reveal how events felt to different people: the daily hurt (like the circus sideshow, where it's fun to take shots at the "nigger's" head); the lure ("the kkk / is looking to rent the town hall for their meetings / why shouldn't they?"); the opposition that refused to allow the Klan to move in. Add this to the Holocaust curriculum, not because every racial incident means genocide, but because the book will spark discussion about how such a thing can happen even now. --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Hesse's (Out of the Dust) powerful, history-inspired novel about the Ku Klux Klan's encroachment on a small town in 1924 Vermont becomes a riveting audiobook as performed by a stellar cast. The storyAtold in poetry, in the voices of 11 charactersAis surprisingly easy to follow; listeners are introduced to each distinctive character voice at the outset and are soon caught up in the strong narrative rhythm, able to discern who's who. Fine showings from Heather Alicia Simms (When Kambia Elaine Came Down from Neptune) as Leonora Sutter, a 12-year-old African-American girl, and Jenna Lamia in the role of six-year-old Esther Hirsh, a Jewish immigrant child, anchor the proceedings and give this production its heart. Colorful supporting characters, some with evocative New England accents, subtly and effectively draw listeners into Hesse's thought-provoking themes. At program's end, listeners are treated to bonus material: a meaty interview with Hesse conducted by author and children's book historian Leonard S. Marcus. Hesse reveals, among other things, her inspiration for the book and her research methods. Ages 12-up. Simultaneous release with the Scholastic hardcover, reviewed in Children's Forecasts, Aug. 20. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6 Up-In this remarkable and powerful book, Hesse invites readers to bear witness to the Ku Klux Klan's activities in a small Vermont town in the 1920s. Using free verse as she did in Out of the Dust (Scholastic, 1997), the narrative here is expanded to encompass the voices of 11 townspeople, young and old, of various races and creeds. The story is divided into five acts, and would lend itself beautifully to performance. The plot unfolds smoothly, and the author creates multidimensional characters, all of whom seem very real. One of the least sympathetic is an 18-year-old boy who begins the book by wanting to open a classroom window to let out the smell of the black girl. By the end, he is transformed by circumstances in a thoroughly plausible way. The writing includes vivid images, such as when Leanora, the black girl, sees a burning cross. She hides in a closet: "in that dark and narrow place,/i opened a hole for myself/but no matter how i turned,/the light from the cross/curled its bright claws under the door." It also includes some quiet yet irreducible moments that resonate long after the book is put down. The small details seem just right, and demonstrate that this is much more than a social tract. It's a thoughtful look at people and their capacity for love and hate.-Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.