Lights! Camera! Action!

Lights! Camera! Action!

Author: Tim Betts

The student will use setting, theme, character traits and reading across genres to gain an understanding of nonfiction biographical work.  Students will complete a scavenger hunt designed by HistoryChannel.org and create a movie trailer presentation based on their understanding of the characters and the text.  I will also use Kid's Wings to address each chapter.



Discuss what makes Swanson's work so realistic and riveting. How did he go about getting so many fascinating details to infuse his narrative? If you could research any topic to this depth, what would you choose? As you read the book make a list of the most fascinating facts you unearth in each chapter. Be prepared to share.

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think the author included the prologue in the story? How is this a good summary of a long and complicated war?
  • Why is John Wilkes Booth so angry? How did his plan reach beyond Lincoln? How did Booth's career as an actor influence his plan for the assassination? How did it also help with his escape? Describe his treachery on that fateful night in April, 1865.
  • What happened at the home of Secretary of State William H. Seward. How was the attack more brutal than the plan?
  • Evaluate the escape plans of the conspirators. What helped and hindered their escapes? Who aided them? In your opinion are people who aid criminals as guilty as those who commit the crimes or not?
  • Who was Edwin Stanton? What decisions did he make after the assassination of Lincoln? Does he act with more leadership than new Vice President Johnson? Does he take his authority too far? Did you consider his treatment of Mary Todd Lincoln cruel?
  • What part did Mary Surratt and Dr. Samuel Mudd play in the assassination? Do you think they both deserved to hang for their crimes? Who else assisted but was not brought to justice?
  • How did Powell stumble into the authorities' hands? Who else was arrested early on? Were some innocent people wrongly accused?
  • Who is Thomas Jones? How does he support Booth and Herold? How does his intimate knowledge of the Potomac become necessary?
  • Why was Booth surprised by the reactions to the assassination in the D.C. newspapers? How had the tide of opinion changed about the president?
  • Did John Wilkes Booth plan his escape carefully? Why did he encounter so many mishaps?
  • How were the Garretts duped into helping John Wilkes Booth and David Herold? In the end, how did they end up aiding the Union troops in their pursuit of these most wanted outlaws?
  • What happened to John Wilkes Booth in the end? What were his last words? How has he been immortalized in Washington, D.C., as well as Lincoln himself? How can we discourage this honoring of the person who committed such evil? How does this apply today?

"This story is true. All the characters are real and were alive during the great manhunt of April 1865. Their words are authentic. In fact, all text appearing within quotation marks comes from original sources: letters, manuscripts, trial transcripts, newspapers, government reports, pamphlets, books, and other documents. What happened in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1865, and in the swamps and rivers, forests and fields of Maryland and Virginia during the next twelve days, is far too incredible to have been made up." — James Swanson, Excerpt from Chasing Lincoln's Killer

So begins this fast-paced nonfiction thriller that gives a day-by-day account of the wild chase to find the assassin John Wilkes Booth and his accomplices. It shows readers Abraham Lincoln the man, the father, the husband, the friend — and how his death impacted the nation.

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James Swanson

Video interview with the author.

Source: YouTube