• Happy birthday Barbro Lindgren (Sam’s Cookie), Susan Patron (The Higher Power of Lucky), Diane Siebert (Heartland), Douglas Florian (Insectlopedia), and Kaethe Zemach (Ms. McCaw learns to Draw).
  • It’s the birth date of Rudolf Diesel (1858–1913) inventor of the diesel engine. Read Hansel and Diesel by David Gordon.
  • It’s a sad day for those who love art and believe in access for all. In 1990, 12 paintings worth around $300 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Works by Degas, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Manet were among the abducted. The museum continues to offer a large reward for any information about the theft.

March has been designated Ethical Awareness Month. Really good books that allow children and adults to explore ethical issues are not that easy to come by, although both Wonder and How to Steal a Dog  can be used for this purpose. But a 2012 nonfiction book by Jim Murphy, The Giant and How He Humbugged America, makes an excellent ethical case study for third through sixth grade readers.

On October 16, 1869, in the sleepy little town of Cardiff, New York, two men set out to dig a well on Stub Newell’s farm. Instead, they discovered a human body more than ten feet long, a giant. Someone suggested it might be an ancient member of the Onondaga Indian tribe. Four doctors immediately proclaimed it an ancient petrified body. Certainly it possessed an amazing face, serene and majestic in death. Could it be a murder victim? Or simply a limestone statue made by humans?

News spread quickly, and thousands of people paid to view this wonder. From the beginning both personal opinion and expert views stood in conflict; and this controversy actually fueled the popularity of the giant. Those, like P. T. Barnum, who couldn’t obtain the real “giant,” simply made copies and displayed them as original.

In a page-turning work of narrative nonfiction, Jim Murphy re-creates the times and attitudes of those living in 1869. With photographs of people, newspaper articles, drawings, and event posters from the era, he brings his readers into the realities and the minds of those who could get excited about an ancient petrified man. Throughout the first half of the book, readers, like those Americans so long ago, don’t really understand whether the giant is real or a hoax. It turns out to be a fabrication, but an extremely lucrative one. David Hannum, one of the original owners, coined the phrase “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

Murphy’s final chapter, “A Word About My Research,” ties the events in Cardiff to the Bernie Madoff and Charles Ponzi financial schemes. It opens the way for discussion about how people can be duped, even today, out of billions of dollars. The Giant and How He Humbugged America explores how the gullible can be fooled by the corrupt.

So for Ethical Awareness Month, or simply if you want a well-researched and well-documented work of nonfiction, pick up The Giant and How He Humbugged America. Once again Jim Murphy, author of Blizzard! and An American Plague, has found an exciting story from history and keeps readers engaged as it unfolds.

Here’s a page from The Giant:

The Giant image


Originally posted March 18, 2013. Updated for .

Tags: Civil War, History
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Giant and How He Humbugged America


  1. Ellen says:

    I’ve placed this on reserve at the library, for my own reading. I’d love to read it to a class, but I read as a volunteer, and only 15 minutes a week. However, I recommend “Mrs. Marlowe’s Mice” by Frank Asch. Mrs. Marlowe, a cat, is reported for “sheltering mice,” and the Catland Security officers show up at her apartment door. She almost has them convinced that she is innocent when the officers spot Billy Mouse. She quickly grabs him, puts him in her mouth, chews and swallows. The officers are convinced and leave. The other mice are horrified (as are the kids) until we learn that it was a ruse, and Billy is fine.
    That’s when I sock it to the kids with a question based on a classic Social Psychology issue: What if she really had eaten Billy in order to save all the other mice…would that be OK?” After a minute of quiet thought, and a chance to talk to a classmate, we have a show of hands. It’s always about 1/4 “yes,” 1/4 “no, never,” and 1/2 “I don’t know, I never thought about anything that hard before.” I’ll be reading this in May for the fourth year in a row.

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.