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Ringside, 1925

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Overview

Take a ringside seat at one of the most controversial trials in American history.

The year is 1925, and the students of Dayton, Tennessee, are ready for a summer of fishing, swimming, and drinking root beer floats at Robinson’s Drugstore. But when their science teacher, J. T. Scopes, is arrested for having taught Darwin’s theory of evolution, it seems it won’t be an ordinary summer in Dayton.

As Scopes’s trial proceeds, the small town pulses ...

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Overview

Take a ringside seat at one of the most controversial trials in American history.

The year is 1925, and the students of Dayton, Tennessee, are ready for a summer of fishing, swimming, and drinking root beer floats at Robinson’s Drugstore. But when their science teacher, J. T. Scopes, is arrested for having taught Darwin’s theory of evolution, it seems it won’t be an ordinary summer in Dayton.

As Scopes’s trial proceeds, the small town pulses with energy and is faced with astonishing nationwide publicity. Suddenly surrounded by fascinating people and new ideas, Jimmy Lee, Pete, Marybeth, and Willy are thrilled. But amidst the excitement and circus-like atmosphere is a threatening sense of tension—not only in the courtroom, but among even the strongest of friends.

★ “The colorful facts [Bryant] retrieves, the personal story lines, and the deft rhythm of the narrative are more than enough invitation to readers to ponder the issues she raises.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, February 25, 2008:
“The colorful facts she retrieves, the personal story lines and the deft rhythm of the narrative are more than enough invitation to readers to ponder the issues she raises.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440421894
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 7/14/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 400,917
  • Age range: 10 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jen Bryant teaches children’s literature at West Chester University and lives in Pennsylvania. To learn more about Jen, please visit www.jenbryant.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Peter Sykes
That morning, Jimmy and me had hiked clear to Connor's Pond, halfway up the mountain,
and back again. I hooked four bass

and three brown trout. Jimmy, who loves fishing more than just about anything, caught a dozen bluegills and a huge catfish his mother

promised to fry us for dinner. Soon as we got back, we stashed our poles under the porch and ran to Robinson's store for root beer floats.

We were sitting at the soda fountain,
sucking on our straws and listening to
Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" on the radio,

when Mr. Walter White asked: "You boys seen
Mr. Scopes?" With school being out and it being summer, we figured the new science teacher must be in trouble. But Mr. White is our school superintendent, so we figured we'd be in bigger trouble if we didn't tell.

"We saw him a half hour ago," I said,
"heading over to the school."
"Dressed for tennis," Jimmy added.

He hurried back to the table where
Mr. Robinson and Mr. Rappleyea waited.
Then the Hicks brothers, both Dayton lawyers,

showed up in their jalopy and all five of them jabbered like magpies at a picnic.

Willy Amos
Those big ol' houses at the edge of town . . .
Pa says they were once grand and beautiful.
Now they're mostly heaps of bricks,
wood planks, broken glass. Some got trees growin' right out the roofs, vines twistin' out the doorways.

Pa says back before I was born, when the mines were open and the furnaces made metal for the railroads and tall city buildin's,
white families lived there—
"lace curtains in the windows, easy chairs an' daisies on the porches in summer," Pa says.

Well, that sure ain't how it looks this summer.
There's skunks in the cellar,
bats in the attic,
mice in the kitchen sink.

When I'm not helpin' Pa, I come here to root through the hallways and closets,
searchin' for somethin' I might be able to fix up and sell—a flower vase,
a tin box, a watch face left behind when those families moved to places where jobs come easier.

'Most every year the town council changes the number on the little wooden sign sayin' how many folks live here:
3,000, 2,600, 2,100, . . . and last year 1,800.

Pa and me, we don't got much need for big numbers. I'm not sure what they mean,
'ceptin' I know that the first one is biggest and the last one is smallest and that means people are leavin'.

Twelve. Now that's a number I'm used to.
I was born here twelve years back:
May 1913. I ain't never lived anyplace but Dayton, Tennessee,
so that last number still seems like plenty of folks to me.

But maybe someday, if I move to a big city like New Orleans, Chicago, or Detroit,
get me a steady job,
I'll live near even more people,
and a lot fewer mice and skunks.

Jimmy Lee Davis
Tarnation! Poor Mr. Scopes!
He didn't know why
Mr. White came to fetch him from his tennis game
& bring him into Robinson's.
Me & Pete sipped our sodas & listened as he confessed that back in the spring when we were still in school,
he assigned us the chapter on evolution,
which explained how all the animals on earth had started as simpler creatures millions of years ago,
& how, over time,
they changed & developed into the insects, birds,
fish, & mammals we see today,
& how, even now,
they were still changing.
(I try not to think of fish as my ancestors when I'm cleaning them.)

Mr. Robinson held up a copy of Hunter's Civic Biology,
which is the book we used in school, which is also one of the books he sells in his store, & asked:
"Did you use this in class?"
Calm as Connor's Pond,
Mr. Scopes said: "Sure I did, Fred.
You can't teach science at Rhea County High without using that book!"

Mr. Robinson smiled wide as a catfish unhooked.
"Well, John, the American
Civil Liberties Union will pay to defend the first person who challenges the new law against teaching evolution in Tennessee. So we were wondering if you'd mind being arrested, to get the whole business right out on the table,
right here in Dayton."

Lordy! My ears were burnin' & Pete near choked to death on his root beer.
Mr. Scopes saw us eaves-
dropping. He winked &
tipped his cap. "Sure, I guess that'd be all right—
long as I can finish my tennis match."
The men took turns patting him on the back,
thanking him, telling him not to worry; they'd send someone down to arrest him later that afternoon.

Peter Sykes
I helped Marybeth Dodd with her groceries and told her about Mr. Scopes. "Poor man,"
she said. "If he's a criminal, then I'm Babe Ruth."

We both laughed at the thought of that.
"Thanks a lot, Pete," she said, her smile flashing in the sunlight. "Anytime, Marybeth," I said,

feeling the color rise in my cheeks. I quick pedaled to the end of her street so she didn't see. (What's gotten into me?)

Turning the corner, I rode fast and hard across the tracks, up the hill, till there were no more stores and houses,

just the farms spread out on either side,
like patchwork blankets as far as I could see.
I pedaled faster. Just about the time my thighs ached

and I needed a break, I came to the big oak at the foot of Walton's Ridge. I leaned the bike against the trunk, laced my shoes on tight, hiked

the steep dirt path made by the Cherokee before there even was a Tennessee. At the top,
there's a flat rock called Buzzard's Point, where you

can stand and look out over the Tennessee River Valley,
watch the steam rise from the Southern Railway line as it snakes its way from one end to the other.

Used to be, I'd climb up there to dream about my future . . . running my own hardware store,
settling down with someone from school.

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