Thursday, September 30, 2010


Wiles, Deborah. 2010. Countdown. New York: Scholastic.

Countdown.   The story is one of a girl named Franny - a nondescript, middle child with a beautiful older sister and a "perfect" younger brother.  Her father is in the 89th Air Force Division; her mother is a dutiful military wife.  Her neighbors are nosy, her "crazy" uncle is suffering flashbacks from the war. She is having a major fight with her best friend; she has a crush on her neighbor.

And as if that were not enough, it's October, 1962.  The Soviet Union has placed missiles in Cuba and the world as she knows it may end at any minute. Duck and cover!

 Interspersed between the pages of Franny's story are photos, advertisements, song lyrics, headlines and other depictions of realia from the "Camelot" years.

According to the author, Countdown is based on her own life, which accounts for the honesty and authenticity of it's protagonist.  The collected depictions add to the story and in some instances (the bomb shelter instruction pull-out that appeared in Life magazine, the "duck and cover" photos of young children at their desks) add a palpable sense of the fear felt by Americans during those tense October weeks. Young readers will relate to Franny and gain a greater understanding of the period, however many of the song lyrics and photos will be unfamiliar to them, and are presented scrapbook style, without caption, in the body of the novel. This format adds dramatic impact at the expense of context.  Will children recognize the smiling Nikita Khrushchev or the silhouetted figures of JFK and his brother deep in thought? Probably not, but it's a minor complaint.

There's a lot of Newbery Award buzz about this ground-breaking "documentary novel."  It is the first in a planned trilogy about the 1960s.  Well-worth reading!

The author and Scholastic offer great resources.  Links are below. Be sure to check out the trailer!

An excerpt from Countdown.
Scholastic's Countdown booktalk.
Scholastic's Countdown Discussion Guide.

100 Scope Notes offers a "toon" review of Countdown.

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