Women’s History Month Kid Lit Review of “Nellie Bly and Investigative Journalism for Kids” by Ellen Mahoney

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This book, subtitled “Mighty Muckrakers From the Golden Age to Today” is part of the excellent series by Chicago Review Press featuring educational content plus twenty-one activities in each book about subjects of interest. (Books in the series I previously reviewed include Native American History for Kids and Christopher Columbus and the Age of Exploration for Kids).

A surprising number of people are unfamiliar with the names of Nelly Bly, Ida Tarbell, Ida B. Wells, and others, who did so much to uncover injustices throughout American history. But there is so much to learn from these brave, trailblazing women, especially given women’s position in society for much of this time period.

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Nellie Bly, for example, was born as Elizabeth Jane Cochran in 1864. Working as a news correspondent under her pen name, she was eventually hired by Joseph Pulitzer’s “New York World” and went undercover at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum in New York, writing an exposé that became the book Ten Days in a Mad-House. Incidentally, in addition to her other accomplishments, Bly traveled around the world in a successful attempt to beat the record of Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg character in the novel Around the World in Eighty Days.

Bly even reported on World War I from the tenches as a war correspondent for William Randolph Hearts’s newspaper, The “New York Evening Journal.”

Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells was born into slavery in 1862. But she grew up to become an acclaimed journalist who shed light on the practice of lynching in the post-Civil War South, publishing three major books on lynching in her lifetime. As she maintained, “The people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press.”

She was also a dedicated activist for the rights of blacks (in 1909, she helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) as well as for women. In 1892, Frederick Douglass wrote to her:

“Brave woman! You have done your people and mine a service which can neither be weighed nor measured. If American conscience were only half alive, if the American church and clergy were only half Christianized, if American moral sensibility were not hardened by persistent infliction of outrage and crime against colored people, a scream of horror, shame and indignation would rise to Heaven wherever your pamphlet shall be read.”

Ida Tarbell

Ida Tarbell

Ida Tarbell famously exposed antitrust practices in her book The History of the Standard Oil Company. Much of what people believed about the role of competition in general and the Standard Oil Trust came from her 1904 account. Tarbell dug into public documents across the country that described instances of Standard Oil’s strong-arm tactics against rivals, railroad companies, and others that got in its way. (John D. Rockefeller famously derided her as “Miss Tar Barrel.”) She reviewed testimony in court and before Congressional committees, as well as copies of pleadings in lawsuits. She talked to people inside the company and those who had competed against Standard Oil. And she succeeded in gaining their confidence – a step where others had failed.

The book also features a look at some male muckrakers, including Jacob Riis and Upton Sinclair, as well as modern muckrakers like Amy Goodman and the Watergate scandal team of Woodward and Bernstein. (The term “muckraker” was first used to describe investigative journalists by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. It came from John Bunyan’s 1684 work The Pilgrim’s Progress. Roosevelt intended the term as an insult, but the reporters co-opted it as a badge of honor.)

Amy Goodman gives a keynote address at the 2013 National Conference for Media Reform in Denver, Colorado.

Amy Goodman gives a keynote address at the 2013 National Conference for Media Reform in Denver, Colorado.

Like the other books in this series, this one includes 21 activities for kids that extend the lessons imparted in history to other subject areas. Activities include guidelines on how to write letters to newspapers, how to make a reporter’s notebook, an explanation of “the five Ws” (essential to all reporting, whether book reports or news reports: who, what when, where, and why), instructions on making an ideas box, and much more.

Resources in the book also include a timeline, bibliography, list of places to visit, and an annotated list of websites to investigate.

Evaluation: This book and the others in the series provide an outstanding supplement to school materials for kids, and will inspire readers with both the text and the activities. Besides the informative narration of the main story, there are plenty of photos and graphics and sidebars and boxes that mix it up and keep it interesting.

Rating: 4/5

Published by the Chicago Review Press, 2015

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About rhapsodyinbooks

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4 Responses to Women’s History Month Kid Lit Review of “Nellie Bly and Investigative Journalism for Kids” by Ellen Mahoney

  1. Deepika Ramesh says:

    What a fantastic read this blog is! I have not heard of these wonderful women. Thank you for writing about them. I cannot stop thinking about Bly, and wonder how she managed to cover herself in an asylum. Interesting read indeed!

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that I really don’t know who those women are. I’ve heard of Nellie Bly but don’t know much about her. I need this book!

  3. Athira says:

    I hadn’t heard of Wells or Tarbell but Nellie Bly recently got on my radar. I have her Ten Days in a Madhouse on my wishlist.

  4. I enjoyed both Ten Days in a Madhouse and the around the world book. I can’t recall the title of it though. Her writing is a tiny bit dated now, but till very entertaining. The madhouse book is still very shocking. Someone should make a prestige television series about her. It would be quite a show.

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