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Countdown by Deborah Wiles

Countdown (edition 2010)

by Deborah Wiles

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5044420,201 (4.01)38
Franny Chapman just wants some peace. But that's hard to get when her best friend is feuding with her, her sister has disappeared, and her uncle is fighting an old war in his head. Her saintly younger brother is no help, and the cute boy across the street only complicates things. Worst of all, everyone is walking around just waiting for a bomb to fall. It's 1962, and it seems the whole country is living in fear. ( )
  GMac | Feb 17, 2011 |
Showing 1-25 of 44 (next | show all)
Countdown is set in the days just before and after the Cuban Missile Crisis. The book is chock full of news articles, song lyrics, political cartoons, catch prases, etc. which contribute hugely to the atmosphere of the story. Franny, a 5th grader whose father is a pilot in the air force, narrates her story. Along with the usual 5th grade issues of liking a neighbor boy, fighting with friends, the first boy-girl party and sibling rivalry, Franny is also a worrier. All the cold war news has her awake at night worrying about the end of the world. Thanks to the notes at the back of the book, I discovered that the story is vaguely auto-biographical. I liked that personal aspect. There was one glaring historical error regarding the length of the Truman presidency, which appears in one of the "school report" style graphics. Overall, this is a great read and one I will probably give to my own "fifth grader" to read. ( )
  nittnut | Jan 4, 2015 |
Countdown takes place in 1962 and is the story of 11-year-old Franny Chapman. Franny is a middle child living near Andrews Air Force base, and she often feels overlooked. She loves to read aloud, but her teacher never seems to pick her to read for the class. She’s fighting with her friend Margie, her uncle is losing his grip on reality, and her sister is mysteriously absent for long periods of time. And as if it’s not hard enough being 11 already, the Cuban Missile Crisis has everyone in a panic, and Franny fears for her life.

The book Countdown is a documentary novel, and the printed book is scrapbook-like and includes important visual references from 1962 to enhance the reading experience. The audiobook experience is just as rich, however, and includes snippets of speeches, “duck and cover” instructions, presidential biographies, the sound of a typewriter, radio dial, bomb explosions and more. It really feels like you are there in 1962, with all the cultural references of the time. It is one of the more unique and entertaining audiobook experiences I’ve had.

It’s easy to identify with Franny and understand her worries about the world. Even though the book takes place 50 years ago and times have changed a lot, some things are still the same. Friendship conflicts still exist, and fears about the future. Franny is a sweet, sensitive girl who loves Nancy Drew mysteries, and playing her sister Jo Ellen’s 45’s, and is excited to attend her first boy-girl party. The author captures the feeling of that age very well, and made me remember my own time in fifth grade, and I was a worrier like Franny so could definitely relate to that.

One of my favorite YA audiobook narrators, Emma Galvin, reads the audiobook. Her voice works well for a variety of different stories, and again she shines with her performance here. She is believable as the voice of Franny, and gets to the heart of the character. Galvin conveys Franny’s kind and earnest nature and her voice is suited for the time frame. The character differentiations are subtle yet distinct, from Franny’s mother to her Uncle Otts, to her crush Chris. Even without the added bells and whistles found in the audiobook, her performance stands out.

Countdown is the first book in the Sixties trilogy, but it is a complete and satisfying story on it’s own. This book is a lot of fun, educational, and entertaining for both kids and adults. Though it’s meant for a middle grade audience, I think anyone who enjoys historical fiction or contemporary YA would enjoy this book. I recommend listening to the audio format to hear the sound effects and bonus historical material to get a feel for the era. ( )
  readingdate | Jan 7, 2014 |
Story was put together wonderfully. Pictures and articles really fit the story. Loved seeing the bomb safety procedures in the story ( )
  nicdar111 | Jun 19, 2013 |
I'm liking it so far except that in the aside about Truman, the length of his presidency is given as six years. If this error were in a school report by a character I would assume the author planted a grade-school error, but since the aside includes Truman's death in 1972 (p. 34) it cannot be by one of these 1962 characters but must be by the omniscient third-person narrator. If the author had got television shows or fashion wrong I'd have more sympathy, but the length of a presidential administration is easy to check and easier yet when the text itself gives the first and last years of his presidency. Of course, the text also claims Truman returned to Missouri in 1952, and without researching that I am going to say that's wrong too and that he didn't leave Washington DC until after Eisenhower was inaugurated in January 1953.
  ljhliesl | May 21, 2013 |

In 1962 President Kennedy faced down the Communists, fathers were on active military duty, children became used to air-raid drills, and families had blueprints for bomb shelters. This eyegrabbing documentary novel includes Cold War-era images, lyrics, speeches, and headlines, all interspersed with the life of Franny Chapman, the narrator, an Air Force brat and middle child living in suburban Maryland.
  KilmerMSLibrary | Apr 30, 2013 |
Wow. I love it when a book lives up to its hype. Deborah Wiles has outdone herself with Countdown. Without the documentary aspects, this would have been a solid story in its own right, but the inclusion of speeches, photographs, lyrics from the early 1960s gives such a "you-are-there" immediacy to the book. Historical fiction like you've never seen it... ( )
  KimJD | Apr 8, 2013 |
I love the characters Wiles creates and Franny is one of her best. Black and white photographs as well as snippets of songs and speeches give an immediacy to the history of the early 60's that impact the narrative. ( )
  lindap69 | Apr 5, 2013 |
On the one hand it was a fairly typical historical fiction. I had some reservations about the info dumps of various historical figures, especially as I wasn't sure how they fit into the story. On the other hand I enjoyed the production elements like the newsflashes and songs quotes. But that was problematic too as I'm not sure younger readers would know "Moon River" and some of the other references. ( )
  akmargie | Apr 4, 2013 |
A "documentary novel." Excellent historical fiction. ( )
  Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |
RGG: The first in a trilogy about the 1960s. The intensity of America's fear during the Cuban Missile Crisis is represented well through the interactions of a military family stationed near an airforce base outside of Washington, D. C. and as narrated by fifth-grader Franny Chapman. The format of a documentary novel may be confusing to some readers, but the depiction of this historical period is compelling. Reading Level: 10-14; F-P X.
  rgruberexcel | Apr 1, 2013 |
In the fall of 1962, Franny's outlook on the world is being drastically altered. Her sister has gone off to college and joined a secret society (a movement for racial equality), her uncle is increasingly batty, and they have actually used their air-raid drills in an emergency. As the United States changes, so must Franny and her family. Peppered throughout the book are actual snipets of popular advertisements, speeches, jingles, and radio announcements given during that time period which provides the reader with a better understanding of the changes Franny is living through.

I really enjoyed this book - especially the pop culture tidbits throughout. It made me feel as though I could better understand the time she was coming from and compare/add it to what I already knew about that time period. Before reading this book I, sadly, didn't know much about the Cuban Missle Crisis, but because of the primary sources and the excellent story I feel much better informed as well as entertained. ( )
  agrudzien | Aug 26, 2012 |
At first the format of the book threw me, but I liked seeing all the images and lyrics of things from 1961 & 1962. Although I wonder how this will play with students when there is little context of who the people are and what the songs are. It would be great to add that media and background as an extension!
This book examines what it was like to grow up during the Cuban Missile Crisis, deal with civil defense drills, and be a kid in that era. Franny is dealing with friend issues and family drama in this context. She's a likeable, long suffering middle child. There are nonfiction essays embedded in the text as well. It did grow on me as I read, and I would pick up the next installment of the series! ( )
  ewyatt | Jul 25, 2012 |
This is the recorded version of a YA novel about growing up (how hard it is to be 11) and the Cuban Missile Crises. It was OK but somehow I was expecting more since the reviews for this one were so good. The recorded version was very well done with different voices doing the inter-chapter breaks. The readers didn't try to imitate famous people but gave them enough differentiation that it was clear that famous people with those accents were talking. The right kind of music and those little touches in the recorded version were not over done and added to the reading/listening of this book. However, I thought it was short on historical facts and long on histrionics about fifth grade. ( )
1 vote benitastrnad | Jun 18, 2012 |
Wiles, D. (2010). Countdown. New York: Scholastic Press.

377 pages.

Appetizer: The first book in the Sixties Trilogy, Countdown is set in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis and when Americans were certain that at any minute the Russians would bomb the U.S. Franny is an eleven-year-old with her hands full. As the middle child, she often feels ignored by her parents and teachers. Her big sister, Jo Ellen is keeping secrets from her. Her Uncle Otts is having trouble remembering that he's not a soldier anymore and she's not certain that her best friend Margie wants to be her best friend anymore. Plus, her crush, Chris, has just moved back into the neighborhood.

Wiles refers to Countdown as a "documentary novel." That seems as fitting a term for it as any. Surrounding the chapters of Franny's story are posters, song lyrics and biographical sketches of major figures from that time period.

When I first picked up Countdown to read, I was a little nervous. It is a thick book, my friends. Did I have time for this? The energy? Then I opened it and was greeted by pages and pages of images, newspaper headlines and quotes. I was reminded of Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a 540-page long picturebook.

Also, as a random note: Here's a picture of a boy that looks a lot like Hugo. How fun is that? Brian Selznik, when will you immortalize me in a masterpiece?

Apparently the boy's name is Max and he wasn't cast for the Hugo movie. Oversight!

Internetz: Brain! What are you supposed to be doing?
ShelBrain: *sheepish* Reviewing Countdown.
Internetz: Don't you think you should be doing that then?
ShelBrain: Fiiiiine.

Countdown is more text heavy the Hugo Cabret of course. As a reader, I did find myself tempted to skip over some of the biographical sketches (I know I would have when I was eleven), but I remained strong.

About 100ish pages in, I had a child-like reaction to the book. (AKA juvenile!) My inner 10-year-old boy reared his wee pimple-free head. (I don't mean to imply I actually am part boy. Rather, I often react to books like a young male reader.) My inner ten-year-old rebelled, saying "Deborah Wiles! You're trying to trick me into learning! I don't like to be tricked! There are too many words! What happened to the pictures! I want more pictures! I like being able to skip through ten pages in under a minute! Bring the pictures back or I'll stop reading!!!!!!"

I stopped reading the book for over a week. I was frozen. Dead in the water. With sharks circling and me clinging to a piece of drift wood, weeping and praying for rescue.

I suspect that most readers don't have the problem I had. Most reviews of Countdown have been so sparly, glowy that you have to wear sunglasses just to read them. I think I wound up with skyscraper-high expectations, when I should have been expecting to be able to enjoy a nice two-story suburban home.

(I have no idea where that housing metaphor came from. I think all the talk of the housing crisis has finally invaded my brain synapses. Or other brain anatomy stuff. Oh, science.

Despite the fact that the book didn't meet my expectations, I was still surprised by the world Wiles created. I couldn't believe the lack of privacy Franny had throughout the story. There was also this scene where Franny mentions that some of the students actually brought her teacher apples. My response was, Really?! Really?! ...how come nobody give me gifts.

Dinner Conversation:

"I am eleven years old, and I am invisible.
I am sitting at my desk, in my classroom, on a perfect autumn afternoon--Friday, October 19, 1962. My desk is in the farthest row, next to the windows" (p. 16).

"It's the air-raid siren, screaming its horrible scream in the playground, high over our heads on a thousand-foot telephone pole--and we are outside. Outside. No desk, no turtle, no cover.
We are all about to die" (p. 21).

"What's worse: your best friend doesn't feel like your best friend anymore, or the whole neighborhood thinks your family is an embarrassment?
Or maybe it's worse that you wouldn't acknowledge your uncle, Franny.
Maybe I'll just stay here, hidden behind the bush, forever" (p. 45).

"Nobody asks about my hard day," I say. I apply Jo Ellen's red lipstick thickly to my thin lips. "Nobody even cares that I was stuck outside during the air-raid drill and everybody panicked and cried and bled to death. But no...that's not important in this family, because I'm not important. Daddy hardly said two words to me today, but he plays a whole ball game with Drew" (p. 84).

Tasty Rating: !!! ( )
  SJKessel | Jun 8, 2012 |
'Countdown' by Deborah Wiles is journey back into the 1960s via Franny Chapman's experiences and news pictures and reports of the times.

Countdown brought so many vivid memories for me like bomb shelters (we had one in our basement)and the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember my teacher's hands shaking when we heard the announcement over the PA. We rode home on the school bus with a lot of frightened friends.

Franny is only eleven but she had so much to deal with!
She is worried about Russia and wants Khrushchev to understand that we are human beings and we don't need to scare each other. She couldn't understand why her best friend dropped her for a snobbish and uncaring girl. Where is her sister? Things arent't matching up with her. She loves her Uncle Otts who lived with them. Why did he seem to be in another world? Why is her younger brother always reading and holding on tight to his favorite book, 'Our Friend, the Atom".

Frannie, survives all of the above and learns about herself and her family in a very uneasy age.

This book is richly illustrated and has many of the poignant lyrics from songs of the times running though the book.

I cared a lot about Frannie, her brother and her older sister. Her parents seemed distant but I think they were so wrapped up in the times that they couldn't see the anguish that their children were going through.

This is a very well written book and I recommend it to everyone who has lived through the sixties or wants to know more about them. ( )
  Carolee888 | Jun 3, 2012 |
The year is 1962. All Franny can think about is how her best friend is not really such a great friend anymore, and the cute boy who just moved in across the street. Until the Cold War escalates and she realizes that her cozy life may not be quite so cozy anymore. Any minute, the Soviet Union could drop a nuclear bomb on her hometown and literally end the world. So she practices duck and cover drills amidst an atmosphere of anxiety and fear.

True confession: I am totally caught up in the 60's trend that is going on right now. I watch Mad Men, wear pencil skirts, and just bought a mid-century modern coffee table. So I was very excited to read this book and was well-rewarded. This book has a great mix of history and fiction. Kids will totally relate to Franny's social problems--who hasn't had a friend go off the deep end? At the same time, they'll find out about one of the scariest and tense times in United States history that they may not be very familiar with. The author mixes transcripts of actual newsfootage, presidential speeches, and commercials, as well as songs, photographs, and movie stills with her story to really bring the time period to life. However, there are also funny and touching moments to lightened the oppressive aura of dread. Franny's family seems totally realistic, especially to middle schoolers, who will recognize how a family members can be completely annoying one minute and completely lovable the next.

Well-paced and fascinating, students will both root for and relate to Franny. The historical backdrop is on display through various historical artifacts sprinkled throughout the book. Reluctant readers will enjoy the story, while advanced readers can examine the historical perspectives. This is an engaging book that I can highly recommend to anyone. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

Reading level: 5th--8th grade ( )
  ALelliott | Apr 28, 2012 |
Quick and fun, I think this would be an interesting and educational read for elementary and middle school readers. Wiles combines easily relatable issues (fighting with a best friend, family tension) with less-understandable historical themes. ( )
  calmclam | Mar 19, 2012 |
If the words Duck and Cover, Nancy Drew, Sing Along With Mitch and the Cuban Missile Crisis all bring memories of a strange and tense time, then you may wish to read Countdown by Deborah Wiles, which cracks open a small window on that era. Perhaps you didn’t live through that time, but wish to know more, then I would still recommend this enjoyable story.

As seen through the eyes of an endearing eleven year old girl, this book covers the last two weeks of October, 1962. The whole country is living with the fear of the BOMB, and the COMMUNISTS. Franny is afraid as well, but she also has other problems on her mind. Her best friend is pulling away from her, her sister is strangely absent, getting involved in university affairs, and her slightly crazy uncle seems to be ready to fly off his rocker. To top it off, an old neighbourhood boy moves back after being gone a year and he gives Franny, along with all the other Grade Five girls, a definite flutter.

Interspersed into the story are essays on current affairs, newspaper clippings, pictures and catch phrases of the day. Through these we see the evolvement of the Cuban Missile Crisis and catch a glimpse of the ongoing struggles of the Civil Rights Movement and even the early introduction of military advisors to Viet Nam. I was the exact age of Franny during this time period, and felt an immediate attachment, Her priorities are mixed in with these very adult, very real situations. However, this isn’t a story of total gloom and doom, the author has a light, humorous touch and makes the whole Chapman family very real and believable. Told in a straightforward slice-of-life style, this engaging story breathes life into a time when the world tottered on the edge of nuclear war. ( )
5 vote DeltaQueen50 | Mar 12, 2012 |
The documentary novel Countdown by Deborah Wiles is an interesting and riveting tale of a girl who goes by the name of Franny Champman. Franny is a young girl in the fifth grade living during the time of the Cuban Missle Crisis, in 1962. Along with the worries of being bombed, Franny has to face several complications along the way, such as the problem of her crazed Uncle Otts, her troubles with her ex-bestfriend, Margie, or her sister Jo Ellen being away from home from long periods of time, away at college. As things grow worse and worse for Franny, she begins to feel more and more invisible. As time progresses, Franny feels left in the dust and abandoned by her family, who suddenly becomes occupied with greater problems.
Towards the end of the novel, Franny uncovers that people do truly care about her. Her family grows more and more supportive towards her and she sees that she truly does matter to people. Her friendship with Margie is restored and she makes several new friends along the way. A romantic intrest sparks up between Franny and the boy next door, Chris. Jo Ellen returns home and Franny and Jo Ellen restore the sisterly bond that was lost long ago, and Uncle Otts is finally at peace with the family.
Throughout the novel, one thing that was taken into consideration, was the character development. Deborah Wiles had excellent character development, especially with the main character, Franny Chapman. Franny wasn't portrayed the way a typical eleven year old girl is usually portrayed. Yes, she wore headbangs to school daily and dressed in dresses and cute things like that, but underneath all of that, the author shows us a little girl who is absolutely terrified. She has no idea whether or not she is going to wake up and live through the next day, because, in reality, Franny and the rest of America could have been bombed at any second. Franny is terrified, she is stressed, and is frantic. Deborah Wiles does an excellent job of portraying these emotions, without directly stating it.
Although the character development was fantastic, the novel was too much of an easy read. The novel easily could have taken me less than a week to finish, and the same goes to others that have read it. Half of the book was just images, thus why the novel was categorized as a documentary novel, but the images took up a lot of where Deborah Wiles could have put in more detail. Her transitioning from sequence to sequence was also rather quick and lacked detail, making the story confusing at points. If Deborah Wiles had added detail, instead of rushing through the novel, the novel would have been more enjoyable to readers such as myself.
The character development was spot-on, however, the lack of detail really killed the novel for me. I really wasn't impressed by the novel, due to it's simplicity. If the author had taken more time and put more detail into it, the novel would have been much more enjoyable. The only major problem with the novel was the lack of detail, which ruined the novel for me. ( )
  ctmsvits | Mar 4, 2012 |
Recommended Ages: Gr. 5-8

Plot Summary: Frannie's life is falling apart. She can't seem to make good decisions and act older, especially when her uncle embarrasses her, then faints while trying to dig a hole in her front yard. Then her best friend suddenly isn't her best friend and starts being mean to her. And their old neighbor finally moved back and she's so excited to see him but she's competing with her ex-best friend who is suddenly spending all of her time with Grace, whose mother is divorced so Frannie isn't allowed to go to her house. Then of course there is the scary threat of nuclear bombs. Even after practicing "ducking and covering" she still thinks her life might be over in the next 48 hours.

Setting: Just outside of DC, 1960s during the Cuban Missile Crisis

Frannie -
Arthur Otts - Frannie's uncle who lives with them, suffers from PTSD and embarrasses Frannie when he runs into the middle of the street barking orders just as everyone is getting home from school and when he starts digging up the front yard to build a bomb shelter

Recurring Themes: post-traumatic stress disorder, family, Cold War, nuclear bombs, Cuban Missile Crisis, duck and cover, propaganda

Controversial Issues:

Personal Thoughts: I listened to the audiobook and at first thought it was better because the quotes from the time period had different voices and true sound effects, which got me in the mood, however I was still confused by them and would have liked to see what they looked like in the book. It seemed like they were in random parts and I couldn't quite tell who was saying what. They did seem to come from multiple sources, such as speeches, propaganda, news reports, etc to give readers a feel for the time period. I do think middle grade readers will connect with the trouble that Frannie is going through socially, while at the same time introducing them to a time period they don't get to study in school, however I would really like to see a print copy of the primary sources before deciding for sure.

Genre: historical fiction (Cold War)


  pigeonlover | Dec 15, 2011 |
I thought this was interesting, but I couldn't really figure out if it's working or not ... set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, it's a look at more-or-less daily life of Franny, the 12 year old daughter of an Air Force officer. Some of her trials and tribulations are the typical schoolyard kind, while others are more specific to the time period.

Aesthetically, I liked the visual pieces inserted between the chapters, collages of archival news footage, Cold War, civil rights, pop culture, song lyrics, government propaganda. It really captured a certain style ... especially taken together with text interludes that used a 1960s social studies textbook tone to deliver biographical snippets of influential 1960s people. The perplexing part for me was ... okay, I don't think there's A WEALTH of good literature out there for kids about this time period, so for many readers, I would guess this is a first look, and given that, does it make sense for this kind of information to be presented so winkingly? If you're 12 years old NOW, and have never had that insanely cheery, civics-type textbook, is this going to mean anything to you? It's not even clear it's supposed be to referencing something, there's nothing to tell you, other than personal experience, not to take it at face value.

This is a little bit before my time, but not SO much before that I don't remember the fear of the Soviets and sitting around in school thinking The Bomb was going to come any minute (early on, the incident that really resonated with me was when Franny and her little brother make a plan to find each other and run home together in the event of an actual air raid, regardless of what the drills tell you to do, this felt so true to me). I'd be curious at how convincing this feels for someone who does remember the Kennedy administration more directly.

Overall, I enjoyed this but I'm not 100% convinced it's as successful a book as the author wants it to be. ( )
  delphica | Nov 19, 2011 |
I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, but it was fantastic. Wile's story is strong and I enjoyed how she wove quotes/news reel clips/etc with the story. The terror that Franny, her friends and family, feel because of the Cuban missile crisis is both realistic and palpable. Emma Galvin gives Franny a voice that sticks with you and keeps you interested. I didn't feel like I was listening to Franny so much as living alongside her. The end of the book involves an incident with Franny and her former best friend and it's a terrifying accident, but it's written so wonderfully that you just can't stop listening. I don't know what the print version looks like, but I absolutely loved the audio book. It was a such a full experience that I can't wait for the next of this sixties series to be available. ( )
  callmecayce | Oct 15, 2011 |
The 1060's were a time of change in the United States. Children in school were taught to "duck and cover" in case of nuclear attack. Franny's dad is in the air force, her sister is in college and not coming home, her uncle is reliving an old war and she is fighting with her best friend. ( )
  lilibrarian | Oct 12, 2011 |
This book breaks new ground for historical fiction, by inserting ephemera of historical fact into its pages. By doing this, the story is better understood by its intended audience: upper elementary and middle schoolers. By doing this, the history of a particular event, the Cuban Missile Crisis, is fleshed out. I only wish the main character had been a high school student. Why? Modern American History is not studied until high school, but high schoolers are unlikely to read a book about an eleven year old. Still, I hope that authors of young adult historical fiction will sit up and take note. This not-so-popular genre might get a boost from adding visuals to the text. ( )
  fromthecomfychair | Jul 14, 2011 |
Wiles, Deborah. (2010). Countdown. New York: Scholastic Press. 394 pp. ISBN 978-0-545-10605-4 (Hard Cover); $17.99.

Fanny Chapman is invisible. Her teachers look right past her. Her best friend is prettier and her uncle is acting strange, but does anything really matter if nuclear bombs fall?

Wiles has created a book that I have not read before. I can promise readers that this book breaks new ground. I read both the manuscript of this book and the finished copy (and if I have one small complaint it is that I wish Scholastic had printed this book in a slightly larger size). On the manuscript cover we see that Scholastic has classified this book as 'Historical Fiction.' However, this book is more than that, although I am not quite sure what to call it--Historical Collage Fiction? My friend, Walter Mayes (AKA Walter the Giant Storyteller) mentioned that Wiles breaks the same kind of ground with Countdown that Brian Selznick accomplished with The Invention of Hugo Cabret. This is more true than not.

The basic annotation of the book is that 11-year-old Franny is trying to survive the inevitable nuclear disaster that is heading toward her home near Andrews Air Force Base. We are in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The U.S. has just discovered bombs on Cuba pointing toward our country. Franny is practicing (and getting bloodied) during duck and cover drills. Meanwhile she is trying to convince her teacher that she exists (despite being invisible). She is trying to convince her family that she is more than a Cinderella servant. Her mother only seems to assign chores and, worse yet, blame. Her older sister treats her like a squirt and will not share the life-changing world she is entering in college. Her Uncle Otts is becoming crazier each day and embarrassing Franny, even while she tries to hold onto the vision of her Uncle as a WWI war hero. And now Franny is fighting with her best friend Margie over friends and boys and stolen letters. Catastrophe is in the air and duck and cover drills are not making Franny feel the least bit safer. Just what is her sister hiding from her under lock and key? Will Franny ever grow up? What is wrong with Uncle Otts? Will a nice boy like Chris Cavas ever choose a plain looking girl like her when her best friend Margie is prettier, more self-assured, and unburdened by a crazy family member?

The notable feature of COUNTDOWN is its inserted pictures of JFK; Khrushchev; Pete Seeger; Sandy Kofax; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Bob Dylan, images of the Civil Rights Movement, Cuba, Nancy Drew, and more. While many of the images have no direct bearing on the plot, they provide the emotional backdrop of the novel and place the story firmly in its historical period. In addition to providing thousands of teachers with a book that will become classroom reading, Wiles asks students to think about their own history in terms of music, media, literature, and popular culture. These added images and the inserted mini biographies of Trueman, Seeger, and JFK provide snapshots of what students like Franny would be experiencing on a daily basis during the Cuban Missile time frame. They give this book a soul that most historical fiction does not possess. They also, I believe, take that step of making historical fiction intersect with today's student and make the time period seem important in today's world. Historical fiction is not among the more popular reading material for teens and I think Wiles has figured out a way to change that perception! Well done!

The degree of difficulty in this book is what takes COUNTDOWN and elevates it to a new level. Wiles has created a new way of experiencing history in the pages of a novel. Her achievement makes this book a must buy for school libraries all across the country regardless of age. This is also a book that will resonate with folks like me who can still remember the duck and cover drills (which provided a moment of welcome respite from the drudgery of the school day). I am hoping that the Newbery committee finds a way to recognize the very unique and significant contribution Wiles has made with this book, despite literal rules that have some dissecting this book into separate parts not nearly so compelling as its magnificent total package. While this book fits in elementary school libraries, it is best suited to middle school libraries. I can even see high school teachers studying the form and style of this book and using it effectively with high school students studying either history or language arts.
  edspicer | Jul 9, 2011 |
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