New York: Random House, 2016

Miller, Sarah.  The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden & the Trial of the Century. New York: Random House, 2016.

In the spirit of Halloween, October’s nonfiction book is a truly gruesome story!  Remember this?

Lizzie Borden took an axe/ Gave her mother forty whacks/ When she saw what she had done/ She gave her father forty-one.

Lizzie herself had to listen to this jump rope ditty sung outside her own window throughout her life, for it was already being sung by children of her own time.  Since then, the legend of Lizzie Borden with all its movies, books, and even musicals, has made it easy to forget that she was a real woman.

It all began on an August morning in 1892, when 32-year old Lizzy entered the sitting room of the family home and discovered her father’s bloody body on the sofa.  Her stepmother’s body was found a little later in an upstairs bderoom. They had both been brutally beaten about the head.  Lizzie quickly became the prime suspect, and this true crime story is off and running.

The Borden Murders is purely factual, and surpisingly readable, as it takes us through the events of the murder investigation, subsequent hearings and trials. That might sound a little dry, but it is not. Helpful sidebards describe important details and background information that give the events in the story context. Subjects on everything from the layout of the house to the difference between a slop pail and and chamber pot (look it up!), that give insight into the live and times of the Borden family. Testimony from neighbors and other townspeople shed light on the personalities of members of the family, and make them more complete than clear cut rolls of the accused and the victims.

In addition to clarifying the facts of the case, Miller introduces Lizzie as a person.  She emerges as a quirky, peculiar person, whose reputation showed, nonetheless, all a woman of her time and status should be. After her trial, however, Lizzy was unable to lead a normal life because the press and the public simply would not allow it. Which leads to an interesting discussion topic: what is the roll of the press and their duty to tell the truth? The press is a character in this story that influenced events and was rarely truthful.

The Borden Murders has all the elements of a quality nonfiction text: it is clearly cited, has extensive notes and bibliography sections; there are a number of primary source documents including photographs, political cartoons, blueprints, maps and more; and it is a great read! This is a perfect nonfiction choice for students who are fans of horror, crime and mystery, especially since this murder was never solved and no other person was ever accused.

Dewey: 360 Interest level:  Grades 5 and up

Awards and Reviews: Kirkus Reviews; Publisher’s Weekly.

Idaho Core Standards:  Reading Standards for Informational Text Grades 6 – 12: Standards 2-9.  This one is particularly good for the standards involving analysis.

Younger readers might like:  Cold Cases by Matt Anniss

Older Readers might like: The Boston Strangler by Paul Hoblin

Fiction Pairing: The Enola Holmes Mysteries by Nancy Springer

On the Web:

Lizzy Andrew Borden Virtual Museum & Library at

Video:  Bio. Lizzy Borden at  Caution:  there are graphic crime scene photos included in the video – please preview to make sure this is appropriate for your students.