The Children's Literature Web Guide

Sample Book Ideas for Literature-Based Reading Enthusiasts

From the 1995 edition of:
The Handbook for the Young Reader's Choice Award
sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Library Association.

for more information contact
Gale Sherman:
Bette Ammon:

More Sample Book Ideas
A 1995 Young Reader's Choice Award Nominee (Grade 4-8):
"Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway?"
by Avi

PUBLICATION DETAILS: Cloth: 176 pages. 1992. $14.95 (ISBN 0-5531-054577-8); lib. ed. $14.99 (ISBN 0-531-08607-0). Orchard. Paper: $3.95 (ISBN 0-380-72113-9). Avon.
GENRES: Historical fiction,humor
THEMES: Family life, radio dramas, parody, friendship, imagination, heroes, World War II, curiosity, teacher/student relationships, freedom, good vs. evil, adventures, injustices, depression, spies, quests, death, skeletons, matchmaking.
READABILITY: Fifth grade
INTEREST LEVEL: Third through seventh grade


"Avi tells the whole story through dialogue. There's not even a 'he said' to show who's speaking, though a different typeface sets off the radio excerpts. Yet, the characters and the parody are so sharp, the fast-paced scenes so dramatic, that readers will have no trouble following what's going on. In fact, they might enjoy acting out parts or making up their own contemporary scripts. Avi has tuned into the way kids play. The joy of the story is that he both mocks heroic stereotypes and celebrates our common dreams. Even while Frankie faces the truth about heroes, the farce of his ordinary life outdoes his make-believe adventures." Booklist. 88(22):2012 August 1992. Hazel Rochman. (Starred review)

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. 46(2):35 October 1992. Roger Sutton. (Recommended and starred)

The Horn Book Magazine. 69(2):205 March/April. Maeve Visser Knoth.

"The happy ending is hard-won but consistent with both the cheerful tone of the book and the tradition of period radio dramas, excerpts from which are interspersed within the narrative. What turns this delightful book into a tour de force is Avi's choice to tell his incident-and character-rich narrative entirely through dialogue. And unattributed dialogue at that. Yet so sure is his grasp of his characters and the unique sounds of their individual voices that readers will never doubt who is speaking or wonder what is happening. Avi's skill and obvious affection for the golden age of radio shine through, and are sure to keep readers tuned in for another episode." School Library Journal. 38(10):112 October 1992. Michael Cart. (Starred review)



Born in New York in 1937, Avi (a nickname given to him by his twin sister) Wortis grew up in Brooklyn. As a child, Avi had trouble writing, spelling and punctuating. He suffered from a disorder known as "dysgraphia" but his love for reading and the guidance of a tutor helped him overcome this difficulty. Avi graduated from Columbia University with a degree in library science. He began writing for children when his sons were small (they are now rock musicians). Avi says he writes quickly...and slowly, with many rewrites. "What I always seek is a good, suspenseful story, rich in emotions, contradiction, irony--a story that grabs, makes you want to race to the end. At the same time I'm working hard to make the characters and ideas stay with the readers long after the last page."


Sixth grader Franklin Delano Wattleson is an incorrigible snoop, addicted to radio serials of the mid-1940s. Determined to drive his family's boarder out so he can reclaim his room and radio, Frankie and his sidekick Mario, plot schemes to gain access to his room, conquer various world injustices, and create a romance between his war-injured brother and sixth-grade teacher.


Written entirely in dialogue with actual radio show scripts interspersed, this sixteen episode (instead of chapters) novel makes for a quicker than usual read for a book of this length. Reading the entire book aloud is not recommended because the dialogue is unattributed to the speakers. Consider introducing the book by having alternating students reading appropriate lines. Note: the radio script excerpts are presented in a typeface similar to a typewriter. Ovaltine, the product that "builds bright minds and strong bodies eight ways," would be the drink of choice and enhance the 1940s setting.


In the tradition of old radio shows, twelve-year old Frankie has created his own character....
"CHET BARKER, Master Spy!" "Da-dum, da-dum!" "Shredded Oat Cakes brings you another thrilling adventure of Chet Barker, Master Spy! Chet Barker, ruthless, clear-eyed, cunning, and full of potential. Chet Barker, thundering out of the dim past in a constant search for his true identity! Chet Barker, fighting hand to hand for what's right. On the land!" "On the sea!" "And in the air!" Da-dum! With his faithful but eccentric sidekick, Skipper O'Malley, Chet Barker believes in the American way!" "Da-dum!" "And now for today's adventure." (page 49 hardback and paperback editions)
Actually, a lot more than one adventure occurs. For the ongoing story don't miss "Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway?" by Avi.


Frankie and his sidekick Mario are planning numerous adventures to change the course of both local and world events just like their radio heroes. Their sixth-grade teacher, Miss Gomez, is about to figure into one of their schemes.
"Hey, there goes Miss Gomez."
"There. Down Montague Street."
"Come on! We'll follow her. We're on a secret mission. It's Berlin. Midnight. Sirens are screeching. The artillery has opened up on the advancing Americans. Miss Gomez is a lovely young spy with crucial information for the Allies. The situation is so bad it's desperate. The fate of the entire universe depends on her. Meanwhile, we've parachuted down from a B-17 to protect her!"
"Frankie, can't we just do something normal for once?" (page 78, hardback and paperback editions)
Being normal is simply not an option in Frankie's life. Tune in for the latest adventures of Frankie (alias Chet Barker) and his sidekick Mario (alias Skipper O'Malley) in Avi's "Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway?"



"Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway?" will lend itself beautifully to radio show style dramatization. Cast the characters and present the book as a radio play. Include an announcer who introduces the program, individuals who present commercial messages, a sound effects producer who provides background music and appropriate noises, as well as a director who orchestrates the drama, the commercial interruptions, and the sound effects. Tape record the finished product and make available to students through the school and/or public library. Consider playing ongoing excerpts over the school's public address system on a daily basis getting everyone hooked!

For further information consult The Great Radio Heroes by Jim Harmon (Doubleday, 1967), WKID: Easy Radio Plays by Carol Adorjan and Yuri Rasovsky (Whitman, 1988), and Sounds in the Air: the Golden Age of Radio by Norman H. Finkelstein (Scribner, 1993).

Language Arts/Creative Writing:

The commercial messages in this book indicate the style of advertising in old radio shows. Some of the products advertised are Ovaltine, POW! cereal and model soldiers, Shredded Oat Cakes, Fudgesicles, Creamsicles, and Popsicles. Students can write similar advertisements for favorite modern products and either present them orally or on a tape recorder. Encourage sound effects, music, etc.

Radio Shows:

Many vintage radio shows are available on cassettes or compact discs such as The Shadow (Great American Radio Corp., 1992) available as eight episodes (The Phantom Voice, The Silent Avenger, Bride of Death, The Temple Bells, The League of Terror, Sabotage, Society of the Living Dead, and Poison Death) of the original broadcast starring Orson Welles and including commercials. Other shows of the past are Lone Ranger (Radio Spirits, 1992) and Green Hornet (Radio Reruns, 1987).

Also available are cassettes of Radio WOOF: Woof's Greatest Bits which is Bill Wellington's fictitious radio station WOOF ("World of Folklore"). This modern day recording introduces fans to a skateboarder named Gharly Roadrash, Whine-A-Day Vitamins, and haunted chewing gum. Additionally, many National Public Radio Stations feature weekly recordings of Riders in the Sky's Rider's Radio Theater. Make some or all of these programs available to students.


Frankie and Mario, like most kids, are fascinated with the skeleton that hangs in Mr. Swerdlow's closet. Invite a speaker to bring a skeleton (and if possible, x-rays) in order to discuss anatomy, bone structure, disease, etc. Make available the Eyewitness book Skeleton by Steve Parker and Philip Dowell (Knopf, 1988), The Skeleton and Movement by Jacqueline Dineen (Silver, 1989), Them Bones, A Fabulous Four-Foot, Fold-Out, Pull-Out Skeleton engineered by David Hawcock and illustrated by Ian Dicks (Delacorte, 1993) and Skeleton and Movement by Brian R. Ward (Watts, 1981).



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Copyright © 1994 by Gale Sherman & Bette Ammon. All right reserved.
Reprinted with permission
The Children's Literature Web Guide