Countdown came to me as a recommendation from Paul Hankins and Donalyn Miller in one of their Choice Literacy articles. Although this is historical fiction, it’s also not too far removed from the current YA interest in dystopian themes, as it considers the days when American and the Soviet Union pointed powerful missiles at each other, creating fear and sometimes panic in their citizens, especially the children.
Deborah Wiles accurately recreates the unease of the early 1960s. Like her, I also grew up on Air Force bases during this time period, fully aware of fallout shelters, air raid drills, and sonic booms. She captures those days perfectly through the eyes of 11-year old Franny Chapman.
What makes Countdown such a unique and satisfying reading experience, however, is the way Franny’s story is supplemented with documentary material from the time: ads, photos, lyrics, quotes, etc. As we turn the pages, we go from Franny’s narration to this rich trove of images and text that create Franny’s cultural context for us. By the end of the book, a reader–especially a young reader–has digested both a compelling story and an awareness of the issues of the time.
Countdown is the first book of a 1960s trilogy. I’m eager for the next installments.