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Gail Jarrow COVER REVEAL! SPIRIT SLEUTHS: How Magicians and Detectives Exposed the Ghost Hoaxes is coming this Fall.

Multi-award winning author Gail Jarrow’s newest YA nonfiction book will be released on September 10, 2024.

Gail Jarrow’s books for young readers have been recognized as Winner of the Excellence in Nonfiction Award from YALSA/ALA; the Robert F. Sibert Honor Book Award; the Children’s Book Guild Nonfiction Award; the Jefferson Cup; the Charlotte Award; the Orbis Pictus Honor; the Grateful American Book Prize Honor… and much more.

Here, Gail talks about why she wrote the upcoming Spirit Sleuths – a book all about magic, ghosts, and scams – and how her previous books led her to this fascinating topic.

Spirit Sleuths began as an idea that had been brewing in my mind for several years. Two of my previous books brought me to the subjects of magic, ghosts, frauds, and hoaxes––The Amazing Harry Kellar: Great American Magician (Calkins Creek, 2012) and Spooked! (Calkins Creek, 2018).

In writing about the world-renowned conjurer Harry Kellar, I learned that he and other nineteenth–century magic entertainers employed tricks and illusions to replicate ghostly séances in their performances. For Spirit Sleuths, I focused on  Kellar’s fellow magician and younger friend Harry Houdini. 

Houdini used his knowledge of séance deceptions to expose fraudulent mediums during the rise of spiritualism after the enormous death tolls from the 1918 influenza pandemic and World War I. His chief investigator was Rose Mackenberg, a pathbreaking ghost detective who continued their anti-fraud campaign into the 1960s, long after Houdini’s death.

My research revealed the ways spook crooks deceived their customers during séances. I share many of these methods in the “How Did They Do It?” sections within Spirit Sleuths. Readers can try the tricks on their friends for fun.

Spooked! tells the story of the famous 1938 radio dramatization of H. G. Wells’s novel The War of the Worlds. The program convinced many listeners that Martians were invading New Jersey.  In my book, I explored why people unquestioningly believed what they heard on the radio.  Like Spooked!, Spirit Sleuths highlights the importance of critical thinking.

Mackenberg, Houdini, Kellar, and other magicians tried to educate the public about swindlers who took advantage of the vulnerable and gullible. You might argue that their ghost-busting efforts aren’t necessary anymore. You might say that everyone today is savvier about fraud and hoaxes than their radio-listening ancestors of 1938.

You’d be wrong. 

In recent polls, roughly 40 percent of Americans said that ghosts exist. That’s up from thirty years ago when only a quarter of Americans believed in spirits. Today in the United States, mediums, fortune tellers, and other psychic businesses rake in more than $2 billion every year. As part of my Spirit Sleuths research, I observed mediums and psychics using the same tricks practiced in the nineteenth century.  Scammers continue to cheat people out of their hard-earned money.

Misinformation, disinformation, bias, and propaganda permeate today’s media and social interactions. Deep fakes and AI can fool us. True stories from the past, like Spirit Sleuths, show what happens when we’re not sufficiently skeptical.