|Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway?
A funny, historical novel that is virtually all dialogue. It's the spring of 1945 in Brooklyn, and Frankie and Mario—inspired by the heroics of the Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet, and the Shadow, among others—set out to right the wrongs of their world. And no one can escape being part of their hilarious adventures.
Story Behind the Story
It will no doubt date me when I reveal that one of the key influences on my writing life was radio. I am not referencing music here, but radio drama, in particular those shows sent out over the airwaves (as they were called) to young people like me.
If I was home sick there were the soap operas such as The Guiding Light. Far better were shows (starting at 5 PM) like Jack Armstrong, Superman, Sky King, In the evening, The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, The Shadow, Suspense. The comedy of The Jack Benny Show. There also was Edward R. Murrow’s You Are There. These were historical reenactments of great moments of history, as if reported by the modern newsmen. “Richard the Third is now riding down Bosworth hill. He has been cut off from his own soldiers. Henry Tudor’s soldiers are surrounding him! Great Scott, the king … . ” Great stuff. read more
Awards and Honors
ALA Notable, 1993
“Avi's pulled off another coup! This author must delight in accomplishing the impossible. This time he's written an entire novel in conversation, including the title … In the process we are not only entertained but learn about the social conventions of the day, reactions to WWII and get insight into Frankie's soldier brother's response to war and heroism. A read-aloud must!” (Children's Literature)
Try reading portions of the book out loud in class as a radio play. We suggest Episode 3 or Episode 11 as a place to start.
Examine how dialogue in a book is different from everyday dialogue. Here's an article by Avi to get you started.
Watch Empire of the Air: the Men Who Made Radio, a Ken Burns documentary, on PBS Online.
Listen to hundreds of free radio programs online, some as a series, on RadioLovers.com. Search for "old time radio" and you'll find many other sites with free radio shows.
Challenge your students to write an ongoing radio serial, with speaking parts for everyone in the class. This can engage students in writing, research, revision, information text, history, communications, and speech.
Selected Bibliography for Further Study
The Great American Broadcast: a Celebration of Radio's Golden Age, Leonard Maltin, New American Library, 1997
On the Air: the Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, John Dunning, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Raised on Radio, Gerald Nachman, University of California Press, 1998.
Radio Days, a film directed by Woody Allen, Orion Pictures, 1987.
Remembering Radio: an Oral History of Old-Time Radio, David S. Siegel, BearManor Media, 2010.
"Romance of Radio," an essay from Empire of the Air: the Men Who Made Radio, Ken Burns, PBS, 2004
"Using News and Old Time Radio Shows to Improve Language Skills," Barbara Castleton, Suite 101, September 19, 2011.
War of the Worlds, Orson Welles' radio broadcast from October 30, 1938, which famously caused a national panic. This is 57 minutes long, an audio version, which is broadcast on YouTube.