Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Countdown - Deborah Wiles

Summary: 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 that the whole country is living in fear. When President Kennedy goes on television to say that Russia is sending nuclear missiles to Cuba, it only gets worse. Franny doesn't know how to deal with what's going on in the world -- no more than she knows how to deal with what's going on with her family and friends. But somehow she's got to make it through.

Featuring a captivating story interspersed with footage from 1962, award-winning author Deborah Wiles has created a documentary novel that will put you right alongside Franny as she navigates a dangerous time in both her history and our history.
 (Summary and pic from

My Review: I’m not old enough to have been alive during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and in fact my parents were a little bit younger than the protagonist in Countdown. So even though I didn’t experience that time, I have heard some about it from my parents and my in-laws, and of course I’ve heard about it in school, referred to in news, etc. I mean, you’ve all heard about the Cuban Missile Crisis your whole life, right? The bunkers, the preparation for nuclear war, the commercials from the times; those are all part of our culture. Now, more than ever, I think we can understand the fear. I don’t know about you, but turning on the news and reading about North Korea and everything going on there scares me—it scares me for myself, my kids, our world, the future of the world and what the future will look like, etc. And so reading this book not only felt familiar in a lot of ways because of what I’ve been hearing/seeing/reading about my entire life, but because this is what we are experiencing now.

One of the coolest things about this book was that it was like a journal—there were news clippings, pictures, ads, etc. These were really cool to see. I’ve heard so much about this era, but I don’t know if I’ve actually seen some of the original literature and so it was not only cool to see, but really set the scene for the book setting. It was one of those books where the setting is a character itself. There are times in history when you can create the setting and everyone knows exactly when you’re talking about. This is one of those times, and Wiles does an excellent job of transporting the reader back to that time. For those of us who didn’t live through it, the way the book was organized made it easy to feel a part of it and understand why people thought the way they did and did the things they did.

The story in this book was of a little girl living during this time, and it was certainly relatable and familiar. I liked the complexities of the characters and the way she experiences very real problems, but, as in real life, there is humor and sadness. Sometimes things go the way you want them to, and sometimes they don’t. How we face these situations is everything. I loved reading about a girl who was facing very normal things for her age, but was also facing things that were bigger than her. Everyone has to face problems that are going on around them on a bigger scale, but sometimes those affect a person more individually because it changes the way life is lived. I think the Cuban Missile Crisis is certainly one of those times. Dealing with the fear of nuclear war and all of the drama that was going on on an international scale affected people living then in a very real and personal way—at home, at school, with friends, all the time.

I enjoyed this book for what it was—an excellent depiction of a normal girl living during a very tumultuous time of our history. I think the organization of the book was great in creating a setting, and the characters felt real in that they were all good and bad in different ways, just as a real person would be.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is clean but does feel kind of scary in some ways because of the time period.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I read Countdown with my fifth grade students. Not only do they enjoy the story of Franny dealing with fifth grade life during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but we have many deep conversations about the documents interspersed throughout the chapters showing life during the 1960s. Topics include the Cold War, Civil Rights, the VietNam War, President Kennedy, space travel, fashions, songs, and fads. This is a chapter in history many fifth graders have not learned, yet. They can identify with Franny, her feelings, and make connections to our lives today.


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