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

PW wrote in our Best Books citation, "Hesse weaves together 11 distinct narrative voices to create a moving account of the Ku Klux Klan's encroachment on a small Vermont town in 1924. Told completely in verse, her quietly powerful novel addresses the inevitable loss of innocence that accompanies the fight for social justice." Ages 9-12. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6 Up-This full cast production greatly enhances and dramatizes Karen Hesse's quietly moving, powerful novel (Scholastic, 2001) about a small town in Vermont after the arrival of the Ku Klux Klan. Set in 1924, the cast of 11 characters tells a story of racism and bigotry based on actual events. As each character speaks, the tale builds like a courtroom drama in which it becomes apparent that the families of 12-year-old Leanora Sutter, an African-American girl, and 6-year-old Esther Hirsh, daughter of a Jewish shoe salesman, are among the victims of Klan activities. Each voice is distinguished by differing opinions and simple language, such as the speech of Leanora and young Esther. Community leaders (a doctor and newspaper editor), adult townspeople who oppose the Klan, and Klan supporters themselves complete the portrait of the town. The presentation concludes with a fascinating interview between historian and critic Leonard Marcus and Karen Hesse in which she discusses her work and how she came to write her latest novel in verse. Pair this powerful novel with Caroline Cooney's Burning Up (Delacorte, 1999) or Virginia Euwer Wolff's Bat 6 (Scholastic, 1998), and watch the sparks fly. What will surely follow is a lively discussion on small town life, hate groups, and prejudice.-Celeste Steward, Contra Costa County Library, Clayton, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.