Reviews for Countdown


Booklist Reviews 2010 May #1
*Starred Review* More than a few books have been written about growing up in the early 1960s, but Wiles takes her story, the first in the Sixties Trilogy, to an impressive new level by adding snippets of songs and speeches and contemporaneous black-and-white photographs to the mix. Drawing on her own experiences during this turbulent time, Wiles' stand-in is 11-year-old Franny Chapman. Living near Andrews Air Force Base, close to Washington, D.C., Franny and her classmates are used to air-raid drills, where they practice how to "duck and cover." Worries about a nuclear disaster become concrete when President Kennedy announces Russian missiles are in Cuba, and the tension ratchets up for 13 days in October 1962. But, at the same time, life goes on, and while rumors of war swirl, Franny must also deal with family issues, including a shell-shocked uncle who embarrasses her, an older sister with secrets, and a best friend who has eyes for someone else. Dealing with fear is one of the book's themes, and the dramatic ending takes this issue on in both macro and micro terms. Wiles skillfully keeps many balls in the air, giving readers a story that appeals across the decades as well as offering enticing paths into the history. Many readers will find this on their own, but adults who read bits and pieces aloud will hook kids. They'll eagerly await the next installments. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2010 May
An innovative coming-of-age tale in 1962

Now, here’s something new in the world of children’s literature—a documentary novel, in which the narrator’s fictional story set in 1962 is interwoven with photographs, newspaper headlines, quotations from politicians and world leaders, song lyrics, advertisements and “Duck and Cover jingles.” The narrative, however, is not stuck in time, extending back through Uncle Otts’s stories of World War I, and forward through the author’s expository pieces on such topics as John F. Kennedy and the later Civil Rights movement. It’s an effective way to demonstrate how our lives are wrapped up in our times, affected by the past and shaping the future.

Franny Chapman is 11 years old and in fifth grade, trying to balance her home life, school life and all of the bad news about the state of the world. “Grow up,” her older sister Jo Ellen snaps at her. But that’s the problem: Will she grow up? Television news reports about Vietnam and the impending Cuban Missile Crisis, duck-and-cover-drills at school and the crazy behavior of Uncle Otts make her confused and fearful. She has trouble sleeping, too. “I lie there, looking up at my pink canopy, and I think about the end of the world and how we’re all going to die soon.” She composes a letter to Khrushchev, she keeps up with her school work, helps around the house, but she’s convinced she’s “a goner, a kid who stays up half the night trying to figure out the horror of the world and trying to survive it.”

She has to survive fifth grade, too—a new awareness of boys, a first boy-girl party, a friend who becomes not so friendly, an older sister who doesn’t seem to have time for her anymore. Franny rings true, her voice pitch-perfect, as an intelligent and earnest young girl just trying to get along. She does survive and even becomes a hero, loses a friend and regains her and finds [Fri Aug 1 04:10:12 2014] enhancedContent.pl: Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\enhancedContent.pl line 249. a sense of herself in the larger scheme of things. By the end of this innovative and finely wrought novel, Franny sees the sense of Jo Ellen’s advice: “There are always scary things happening in the world. There are always wonderful things happening. And it’s up to you to decide how you’re going to approach the world . . . how you’re going to live in it, and what you’re going to do.”

A great match with David Almond’s The Fire-Eaters (2004) and Ellen Wittlinger’s This Means War (2010), Countdown is a sure contender for this year’s Newbery Medal. 

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Read an interview with Deborah Wiles about The Aurora County All-Stars.

Copyright 2010 BookPage Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2010 July
Survive or thrive: it's a scary thing

Here’s something new in the world of children’s literature—a documentary novel, in which the narrator’s fictional story set in 1962 is interwoven with photographs, newspaper headlines, song lyrics and ads. The narrative, however, is not stuck in one particular era; it extends back in time through Uncle Otts’ stories of World War I, and forward through the author’s expository pieces on such topics as John F. Kennedy and the later Civil Rights movement. It’s an effective way to demonstrate how our lives are wrapped up in our times, affected by the past and shaping the future.

Franny Chapman is 11 years old and in fifth grade, trying to balance her home life, school life and all of the bad news about the state of the world. TV reports about Vietnam and the Cuban Missile Crisis and duck-and-cover-drills at school make her confused and fearful. She composes a letter to Khrushchev, keeps up with her school work and helps around the house, but she’s convinced she’s “a goner, a kid who stays up half the night trying to figure out the horror of the world and trying to survive it.”

She has to survive fifth grade, too—a new awareness of boys, a first boy-girl party, a friend who becomes not so friendly and an older sister who doesn’t seem to have time for her anymore.

Franny rings true, her voice pitch-perfect, as an intelligent and earnest young girl just trying to get along. She does survive and even becomes a hero, loses a friend and regains her, and finds a sense of herself in the larger scheme of things. By the end of this innovative and finely wrought novel, Franny sees the sense of her older sister’s advice: “There are always scary things happening in the world. There are always wonderful things happening. And it’s up to you to decide how you’re going to approach the world . . . how you’re going to live in it, and what you’re going to do.”

Countdown is a sure contender for this year’s Newbery Medal.

Copyright 2010 BookPage Reviews.

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Fall
The narrator of this first-rate novel is eleven-year-old Air Force brat (and middle child) Franny Chapman. With JFK facing down Communists and a father on active duty, Franny has cause to feel on edge. Eye-grabbing graphic spreads of Cold War-era images, lyrics, speeches, and headlines are shrewdly interspersed throughout the book, providing most of the social commentary and historical explication. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2010 #3
Even the weakest history student knows that the world didn't end during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, yet it can be hard to shrug off the old-time geopolitical jitters in this first-rate novel -- especially when its eye-grabbing graphic spreads of Cold War-era images, lyrics, speeches, and headlines, shrewdly interspersed throughout the book, come into view. Eleven-year-old Franny Chapman is the narrator, an Air Force brat and middle child living in suburban Maryland who enjoys trying out new words and feeling persecuted at home and at school. But with JFK facing down the Communists, a father on active duty, a disapproving mother, an anxious little brother, a secretive older sister, and a shell-shocked great uncle with blueprints for a bomb shelter, Franny certainly has cause to feel on edge. Because the graphics provide most of the novel's social commentary and historical explication (including a superb interpretation of President Kennedy's speech to a nervous nation on October 22, 1962), the prose is free to focus on characters; and the dialogue is often rat-a-tat sharp. Franny's rivalry with a frenemy, mostly over a cute boy back in town, sets off a subplot that picks up speed over the second half of the novel. Another subplot, about older sister Jo Ellen's clandestine civil rights efforts, appears to be laying a foundation for the next volume of a projected trilogy. The larger story, however, told here in an expert coupling of text and design, is how life endures, even triumphs, no matter how perilous the times. anne quirk Copyright 2010 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2010 April #2
Just as 11-year-old Franny Chapman squabbles with her once-best friend in their neighborhood near Andrews Air Force Base, outside of Washington, D.C., President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev are also at odds. Franny's spot-on "Heavens to Murgatroyd" dialogue captures the trepidation as the world holds its breath during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Adding to the pressure are her college-student, activist older sister, who may be a spy, her aspiring-astronaut younger brother, who refuses to eat, her steely, chain-smoking mother, who has inexplicably burst into tears, her often-absent pilot father, now spending long days on base, and her PTSD-suffering, World War I-veteran Uncle Otts, who's digging up the front yard to build a bomb shelter. Wiles's "documentary novel," based on her own childhood memories and the first in The Sixties Project trilogy, has a striking scrapbook feel, with ingeniously selected and placed period photographs, cartoons, essays, song lyrics, quotations, advertisements and "duck and cover" instructions interspersed through the narrative. References to duct tape (then newly invented), McDonald's and other pop culture lend authenticity to this phenomenal story of the beginnings of radical change in America. (historical note, author's note, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 10-13) Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Media Connection Reviews 2010 October
In October 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union teetered on the brink of nuclear war over Russian missile bases in Cuba. Franny tries to remain calm as her class practices the ?duck and cover? drills. Her father, a fighter pilot, is on alert and could be called out on a mission at any time. In addition, Franny believes that her best friend is deserting her for a cooler group of friends. If she survives the nuclear attack, will she survive fifth grade? The author has captured the tension that was pervasive during those days, with characters who are well-developed. The novel is the first of a trilogy about the 60s. Interspersed among the chapters are supplemental materials to expand the reader?s understanding of this era. In addition to essays, archival photographs are paired with song lyrics. This documentary novel can be used by teachers to examine many aspects of this period. The author has provided all of the songs as a download on her website since they may not be familiar to today?s reader. This is a bold experiment that merges facts with fiction to create a clear look at one of the most dramatic episodes in United States history. Recommended. Charlotte Decker, Librarian, Children?s Learning Center, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Cincinnati, Ohio ¬ 2010 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 April #4

Wiles heads north from her familiar Mississippi terrain (Each Little Bird That Sings) for this "documentary novel" set in Maryland during the Cuban missile crisis. Eleven-year-old Franny, a middle child, is in the thick of it--her father (like Wiles's was) is a pilot stationed at Andrews Air Force Base. Wiles palpably recreates the fear kids felt when air-raid sirens and duck-and-cover drills were routine, and when watching President Kennedy's televised speech announcing the presence of missiles in Cuba was an extra-credit assignment. Home life offers scant refuge. Franny's beloved older sister is keeping secrets and regularly disappearing; her mother's ordered household is upended by the increasingly erratic behavior of Uncle Otts (a WWI veteran); and Franny's relationship with her best friend Margie is on the brink as both vie for the same boy's attention. Interwoven with Franny's first-person, present-tense narration are period photographs, newspaper clippings, excerpts from informational pamphlets (how to build a bomb shelter), advertisements, song lyrics, and short biographical vignettes written in past tense about important figures of the cold war/civil rights era--Harry S. Truman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Pete Seeger. The back-and-forth is occasionally dizzying, but the striking design and heavy emphasis on primary source material may draw in graphic novel fans. Culminating with Franny's revelation that "It's not the calamity that's the hard part. It's figuring out how to love one another through it," this story is sure to strike a chord with those living through tough times today. Ages 9-12. (May)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2010 July

Gr 5-8--Franny lives with her family in suburban Maryland just outside Andrews Air Force Base, circa summer of 1962. Kennedy and Khrushchev's duel on the world stage plays in the background while the fifth grader worries about her best friend's betrayal; adores her college-age sister, Jo Ellen; and fights with her saintly little brother, Drew. When not navigating the ups and downs of early adolescence, she writes letters to Khrushchev, prepares for air-raid drills, and investigates her sister's coded letters from "Ebenezer." At its core, Countdown is a straightforward, no-surprises tale of historical fiction that at times reads like a memoir. Its unique format, however, is anything but run of the mill. Planned as the first in a trilogy, the book has been dubbed a "documentary novel." In a successful effort to give readers a sense of the country's total preoccupation with all things nuclear and Communist during the height of the Cold War, Franny's narrative is punctuated by newspaper clippings, advertisements for bomb-shelter materials, news broadcasts, brief vignettes about famous figures, ephemera, and more. The overall result is somewhat frenetic but certainly effective; readers are not only immersed in the era, but also experience a feeling of bombardment similar to that felt by Franny. While the narrative may not have stood solidly on its own, the documentary format and personalization of the major events of the decade will draw and dazzle readers.--Jill Heritage Maza, Greenwich High School, CT

[Page 98]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

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