Sunday, June 26, 2011

Countdown, by Deborah Wils

Title:  Countdown
Author:  Deborah Wiles
Publisher:  Scholastic
Pages:  400
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Themes:  Friendship, Fear, Family, Cuban Missile Crisis, Civil Rights
Age Range:  5th-8th Grade

Summary (from Goodreads):
It's 1962, and it seems everyone is living in fear. Twelve-year-old Franny Chapman lives with her family in Washington, DC, during the days surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. Amidst the pervasive threat of nuclear war, Franny must face the tension between herself and her younger brother, figure out where she fits in with her family, and look beyond outward appearances. For Franny, as for all Americans, it's going to be a formative year.

Wiles has pulled off with this novel the rather impressive feat of making something like the Cuban Missile Crisis accessible to younger readers through this coming-of-age story.  Franny could be any pre-teen entering adolescence; she's the unsettled middle child of a stern mother and Air Force pilot father, embarrassed by her family while loving them deeply, navigating the world of friends and boys without a map.  What makes Franny's story different is that she is doing it all in the context of some of the greatest upheavals in American society.  While she and her classmates are still pedal pushers and headbands, the world around her is getting ready to enter the era of Viet Nam, the peace movement, the civil rights movement, the space race, and yes, the Cold War.

While the story itself does a decent job of detailing the particular moment in our country's history that was the Cuban Missile Crisis, there are also many parallels that could be made between 1962 and the fear that gripped the US after 9-11.  What struck me most was the fear that the adults thought it was OK to lay on these kids.  And the absurdity of teaching them to "duck and cover", as though that would provide any protection from a nuclear blast.  Just another example of schools making safety rules and having safety drills designed to make us feel like we're doing something to be safer, when in reality we can't control all of the dangers that face our children.

The format of the book is engaging, with photos and advertisements and slogans, and short biographies of some of the major players at the time thrown in.  While the main character is female, with rather uniquely female friend/boy issues, I think that there is enough action going on in the book that make readers would be able to get into the story.  Apparently this is going to be part of a trilogy called The Sixties Trilogy, though I haven't found a release date for the second book.  I'm hopeful that the next book will follow Franny's sister, Jo Ellen, as she goes to Mississippi for Freedom Summer.

Teacher Resources:
Scholastic-Deborah Wiles Author Study 
Deborah Wiles Website 
Countdown Discussion Guide 
Mutlimedia Playlist of Music and Images from Countdown  

No comments:

Post a Comment