• Happy birthday Gregory Maguire (What-the-Dickens, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister).
  • It’s the birth date of Patricia Clapp (1912-2003), Jane-Emily, The Tamarack Tree.
  • In 1959, Queen Elizabeth II officially opens the London Gatwick Airport. Read A Plane Goes Ka-Zoom! by Jonathan London, illustrated by Denis Roche and This is London by Miroslav Sasek.
  • In 1934, the cartoon character Donald Duck makes his debut in The Wise Little Hen. Hence, it is Donald Duck Day. Read The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck by Don Rosa, Donald Duk by Frank Chin, and Duck by Randy Cecil.

On June 9, 1954, a lawyer from Boston, Joseph Welch, confronted the most feared man in the United States with the cry “Have you left no sense of decency?” These words marked the beginning of the end of Senator Joe McCarthy, a man who had ruined the careers and lives of countless Americans, and his sway over American politics. The fearful ’50s, as they are sometimes called, can be difficult to describe to young people—who have not, after all, grown up believing that Communism is the greatest threat to America.

In The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy, James Cross Giblin brilliantly re-creates this period and the complex and disturbing character of McCarthy for readers ages eleven through eighteen. He makes it possible for the young to understand the meaning of the word McCarthism—guilt by association and unfounded accusation.

From an initial cartoon of the period—showing McCarthy signing legislation in the White House while President Eisenhower looks on—to the final notes about what happened to those covered in the book, Giblin provides an in-depth analysis of the events and personalities. In his final chapter he poses the question “Another McCarthy?”—Can another dangerous leader rise up in the American landscape? Because of the thoroughness of the coverage, The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy is ideal for thoughtful young readers trying to understand the politics of another era.

I was fortunate to work with Jim Giblin for many years in publishing, and he is truly one of the nicest people I ever known as a colleague. Yet in his books, he has presented some of the darkest characters in history, including Adolf Hitler. I am thankful this thoroughly decent author is willing to analyze these complex and evil characters and write about them in a way that young people can understand. Jim’s books affirm my belief that much of the best narrative nonfiction writing today takes place in books for the young.

So today we can celebrate the courage of both Joseph Welch and of James Cross Giblin, who is willing to tackle difficult subjects and write about them with intelligence and passion.

Here’s a page from The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy:


Originally posted June 9, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Cold War, History, Politics
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy


  1. Erica S. says:

    Anita – you write that you are “thankful this thoroughly decent author is willing to analyze these complex and evil characters and write about them in a way that young people can understand.” I couldn’t agree more. My favorite book of his (and one of my favorite nonfiction books for young adults in general) also deals with a complex and evil topic – plagues. When Plague Strikes: The Black Death, Smallpox, and AIDS is a fascinating book that compares these three epidemics and their societal as well as medical impact. I read the book in three hours straight without once looking up! Giblin is a master at telling a compelling true story. Thank you for featuring one of my favorites today!

  2. suzi w. says:

    When I read the tweet, (and again when I opened the site), I had to do a double take…is this the same column that told me a few days ago of the matrimony between Ruth Sawyer’s daughter and Robert McCloskey? But I know that I adore Russell Freedman, and that I learn best from children’s authors. So I will try this guy. But maybe I’ll wait til fall. This children’s librarian is already overwhelmed, and summer reading doesn’t officially start for four days.

    Thanks for not just being about kittens and chocolate ice cream. From the bottom of this children’s librarian’s heart.


    (who thinks this is the best online non-course in Children’s Lit., bar none.)

  3. G.Perry says:

    And here’s another reader that did a triple-take when he saw the dust cover of the book reviewed here today. I thought, in the midst of all these extraordinary and beautiful books, we see McCarthy’s face. Here?

    However, after reading through Anita’s review, I changed my mind. Yes. Well done Anita.

    I realized this was indeed a good way for children to learn about this type of mentally tilted and destructive adult, and how this kind of power-granted lunacy can harm people. It also had never occurred to me that any children’s author had taken on real life evil like this. This probably comes from my first coming to children’s literature as an adult.

    Are children going to go looking through dull textbooks eager to learn about this kind of thing? Not likely. However, if a talented, level headed, well informed author who understands children well, such as Giblin, can explain this in a way that children will find interesting enough to want to read and stay with the book, now that’s something special.

    I will be reading this book and Giblin’s book about Hitler.

  4. Anita says:

    Thanks for the comments. Although I love to talk about funny books and tell funny stories, I know that we all need to provide a range of reading material for our young. So, yes, every now and again, I will feature a work of nonfiction or historical fiction because I consider the book important. I always attempt to be quite clear about the content of any book. That is the best way for someone to decide if it is for them — or for the children in their lives.

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