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Countdown by Deborah Wiles
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Countdown (edition 2010)

by Deborah Wiles

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5475318,310 (3.97)40
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 53 (next | show all)
A clever book. Part fiction, part non-fiction. I really enjoyed the structure of the this book. Wiles inserts true historical events from 1962 into portions of her narrative tale of a girl "lost" in the many unspoken dynamics of her family. I would have thought that a style like this one would have been intrusive, but it wasn't. At times, I even disliked parting from the non-fiction material to have to turn back to the storyline. The difficulty with this book lies with the target audience. Written for young adolescents, it's hard to see kids reading this independently. Under the guidance of a teacher, this is a better fit. A teacher or adult can draw out the striking parallels between the culture of fear in 62 and the same today. Wiles has a great concept book here and it was fun taking a trip back in time. I'd love to see more books like this. ( )
  RalphLagana | Jan 23, 2016 |
I really wanted to give this book a five star rating on its concept alone. It is a story set in the sixties that incorparates great current events, songs, poetry and memorabilia into the story. I am always a sucker for sneaking some extra "learnin" in--especially history! However, I soon found myself dreading the chapters of the story and looking forward only to the non-fiction portions--though they don't make as much sense outside of the context of the story. The story itself, I would have to give a one star. The voice annoyed me, the story wasn't very interesting (outside of the world events taking place around it), and some of the details did not match up logistically. This book is the first of a planned trilogy, and as much as I want to read the others for the concept and historical interest, I really am dreading staying with the same characters. I do hope the concept catches on (maybe with new authors) as it is really fascinating. ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
I really wanted to give this book a five star rating on its concept alone. It is a story set in the sixties that incorparates great current events, songs, poetry and memorabilia into the story. I am always a sucker for sneaking some extra "learnin" in--especially history! However, I soon found myself dreading the chapters of the story and looking forward only to the non-fiction portions--though they don't make as much sense outside of the context of the story. The story itself, I would have to give a one star. The voice annoyed me, the story wasn't very interesting (outside of the world events taking place around it), and some of the details did not match up logistically. This book is the first of a planned trilogy, and as much as I want to read the others for the concept and historical interest, I really am dreading staying with the same characters. I do hope the concept catches on (maybe with new authors) as it is really fascinating. ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
Great coming-of-age story. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Franny is terrified of the bomb, and of the barely-hidden fear of the adults around her. She is also coping with a best friend who is suddenly not so friendly, a dear uncle with dementia, and her two siblings. This is a wonderful snapshot of a particular moment in American history, and a moment in the life of an adolescent girl. Filled with pictures and clippings from the time period that enhance the atmosphere of the story. ( )
  AmeliaHerring | Jan 22, 2016 |
Eleven-year-old Franny Chapman lives with her family just outside Andrews Air Force Base where her father is stationed as a jet pilot in October of 1962. Franny's quiet existence is about to be shattered in two ways: her best friend Margie has become a mortal enemy and the Russians have begun installing missiles in Cuba. Which of these two scenarios frightens Franny the most is hard to say but she certainly is deeply affected by the constant barrage of 'duck and cover' drills at school, nightly newscasts warning that missiles could reach as far as Montana, and dire television speeches by a grave-looking President Kennedy. All of this political upheaval causes stress at the Chapman home where Dad is on standby orders, Mom is stressed, college-aged sister JoEllen is secretly attending 'intellectual meetings', little brother Drew is obsessed with the space program and atoms, and great-uncle Otts wants to build a bomb shelter. As Franny struggles to have a normal life as a 5th grader she finds herself losing her best friend over petty jealousies and all of the combined turmoil makes Franny unsure there will be a tomorrow for anyone.

It took me a very long time to feel any connection with the characters in the story (easily 1/2 way through the book) but I ended up liking them fairly well. The real gems in this novel are the black and white photos of the era, snippets of speeches by politicians of the day, phrases from the era's popular songs and even some biographies of influential people of the early 60's. I am old enough to remember the Cuban missle crisis but for some reason I have no recollection of it at all. Certainly I have read much about those frightening 13 days in October 1962 but I am astounded that it must not have impacted my life in the way it did Franny's. This may be a silly thing to take from this book but I wonder about those "duck and cover" drills. Did people really think that hiding under a desk or covering exposed skin with newspapers would save your life when the atom bomb detonated? I have a feeling that politicians and scientists all over the world knew we were doomed if the worst-case scenario happened and they used a cute little cartoon turtle named "Bert" who 'carries his shelter on his back' to make people think they could really do something to ensure their safety. This book is supposed to be the first in a trilogy set in the 1960's and I will probably read the other 2 when they are published.
( )
  Ellen_R | Jan 15, 2016 |
Parts of this story are really interesting and parts of them are very slow. I liked Fanny and Drew and there were definitely times when I wanted to strangle Margie. There were a couple of threads that were left hanging or for the reader to infer. As an adult with a strong grasp of american history I was able to figure out what was going on but as a kid still only learning history I'm not sure I would have figured it out. The long random tangents about historical characters were interesting but sometimes went on long enough that they felt like not fun school.
Initially I was really excited about the audio interruptions from famous speeches, songs from the sixties and informational works, but as I realized that they had someone imitating everything and it wasn't the actual speeches I got kind of disappointed with them. ( )
  Rosa.Mill | Nov 21, 2015 |
Parts of this story are really interesting and parts of them are very slow. I liked Fanny and Drew and there were definitely times when I wanted to strangle Margie. There were a couple of threads that were left hanging or for the reader to infer. As an adult with a strong grasp of american history I was able to figure out what was going on but as a kid still only learning history I'm not sure I would have figured it out. The long random tangents about historical characters were interesting but sometimes went on long enough that they felt like not fun school.
Initially I was really excited about the audio interruptions from famous speeches, songs from the sixties and informational works, but as I realized that they had someone imitating everything and it wasn't the actual speeches I got kind of disappointed with them. ( )
  Rosa.Mill | Nov 21, 2015 |
Parts of this story are really interesting and parts of them are very slow. I liked Fanny and Drew and there were definitely times when I wanted to strangle Margie. There were a couple of threads that were left hanging or for the reader to infer. As an adult with a strong grasp of american history I was able to figure out what was going on but as a kid still only learning history I'm not sure I would have figured it out. The long random tangents about historical characters were interesting but sometimes went on long enough that they felt like not fun school.
Initially I was really excited about the audio interruptions from famous speeches, songs from the sixties and informational works, but as I realized that they had someone imitating everything and it wasn't the actual speeches I got kind of disappointed with them. ( )
  Rosa.Mill | Nov 21, 2015 |
Parts of this story are really interesting and parts of them are very slow. I liked Fanny and Drew and there were definitely times when I wanted to strangle Margie. There were a couple of threads that were left hanging or for the reader to infer. As an adult with a strong grasp of american history I was able to figure out what was going on but as a kid still only learning history I'm not sure I would have figured it out. The long random tangents about historical characters were interesting but sometimes went on long enough that they felt like not fun school.
Initially I was really excited about the audio interruptions from famous speeches, songs from the sixties and informational works, but as I realized that they had someone imitating everything and it wasn't the actual speeches I got kind of disappointed with them. ( )
  Rosa.Mill | Nov 21, 2015 |
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 |
WATCH BOOK TRAILER

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 |
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