"The President Has Been Shot!" by James L. Swanson

PresidentLynn:  This week our nation will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and, even all these years later, speculation and controversy still surrounds this tragic event.  James Swanson’s excellent new book, “The President Has Been Shot!:  the Assassination of John F. Kennedy, (Scholastic 2013), provides a detailed step-by-step account of the pivotal 4 days from Nov. 21, 1963 to Kennedy’s funeral on Monday, Nov.25, 1963 and examines the facts and the controversy.

I was a high school student then and that awful day is an event that I will never forget but for our current students that day is distant history.  James Swanson clearly takes that into account here as he begins his book with a succinct and interesting biography of Kennedy, his election and the pivotal events that marked his presidency.  Part Two of the book begins on the day Kennedy left Washington D.C. for Texas and what follows chronicles the decisions, actions and events of the next 4 days.  Swanson alternates the focus between Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald as their separate trajectories came together at the site of the assassination.  The writing is dramatic as befits the topic and will not only provide an outstanding understanding of the event and its importance but is compelling reading.

Swanson has a definite opinion on the various conspiracy theories that still circulate and counters them with evidence supporting his belief that Oswald was the lone gunman.  The final section of the book provides an outstanding bibliography and source notes on the lives of the major individuals involved, on the events of the assassination and on the various theories.  Diagrams of the Book Depository, the location of the shooting and the path of the bullets are also included and are extremely clear and helpful.  Swanson has also included excellent photographs and illustrations that expand reader’s understanding of the event.

Some of the details included in the book are horrifying and so vividly described that I had to close the book for a moment.  But we ARE examining a horrible event.  Bullets do appalling damage to the human body and I commend Mr. Swanson for including them.  Young people who routinely spend time with video games may have a very sanitized idea of what bullets and explosions do in real life and the reality is an important element in this event.

Reading this book brought the tragedy of those days rushing back but I truly appreciated the clear and concise accounting of the event and I learned a lot.  I think young readers will find the book as compelling as I did and will be equipped to explore the various theories that still exist.  More importantly, I think they will gain an understanding of this tragic event that shook the nation.

Cindy: I spent last week booktalking to 8th grade students and because of the upcoming 50th anniversary, I spent some time talking about JFK, his childhood (thank you Ilene Cooper for your book Jack: The Early Years of John F. Kennedy), his rise to president and his achievements there, and of course, the tragedy of his assassination. My students are still in the early days of our country’s history and most of them are unfamiliar with the man who died when their “old” librarian was only two years old. I wish that I had finished reading Swanson’s book before my booktalk sessions as it is sure to be a popular addition to the JFK books for teens.

Swanson’s book puts the students right there as the action unfolded over those four horrible days and the photographs, diagrams, and extensive back matter will help bring this history in focus. One feature that might be interesting to discuss with teens was the technology and media coverage of the time compared to ours today. Everyone old enough to have watched the coverage saw Walter Cronkite shakily deliver the news, or heard it on the radio. The photo of people standing in front of downtown appliance stores watching the news on the tvs in the store windows. I was surprised to learn here that there was a radio telephone in the press car that was used to deliver the news to the UPI. Four minutes after shots were fired, a UPI bulletin was spread across the country. Even those of us too young, or not yet born at the time of Kennedy’s death have seen or heard the clip of Conkrite delivering the devastating news. But media and history buffs will be interested to learn that CBS is planning to stream uncut video of the four days of live coverage of the Kennedy assassination.

As I turned the last page before the Epilogue and saw Bill Mauldin’s political cartoon showing Abraham Lincoln’s sculpture at the Lincoln Memorial with Abe’s head in his hands weeping at the loss of another president, I felt the tears roll too.

Common Core Connections:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.8 Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.

In the Epilogue, James Swanson addresses the mystery of Lee Harvey Oswald’s motive for assassinating John F. Kennedy.  What position if any does Swanson take?  Write a narrative supporting your assessment and cite examples of text, distinguishing what is fact, opinion or reasoned judgment?

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

James Swanson has a particular point of view on whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone or had accomplices.  Select a book or article from the bibliography included or from your own research.  Compare the point of view of the two authors, cite textual examples and compare their accounts.

nonfiction-mondayWe are participating again today in Nonfiction Monday.  Visit NC Teacher Stuff for other great nonfiction books.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees.

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