Summary: It's 1962, and it seems everyone is living in fear. Twelve-year-old Franny Chapman lives with her family in Washington, DC, during the days surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. Amidst the pervasive threat of nuclear war, Franny must face the tension between herself and her younger brother, figure out where she fits in with her family, and look beyond outward appearances. For Franny, as for all Americans, it's going to be a formative year. -- Scholastic
I am definitely on a roll with middle grade books lately, and what I'm finding is that you don't have to be a tween to appreciate these books. I recently read COUNTDOWN by Deborah Wiles and thought it was a fantastic book...a seriously fantastic book. I was blown away and I have been raving about this one to everyone who will listen to me (I even pulled it out at book club last month to show the other moms!)
COUNTDOWN is a very unique book and unlike any other middle grade books that I've read because it's actually a documentary novel. What this means is that the book is almost like a scrapbook because it includes photos, news clippings, advertisements, famous quotations, essays on historical figures, and much more. These items are incorporated into the story between chapters and are really an effective way of bringing the story and time period to life. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all of these images, and I have a feeling that kids will feel the same way.
The documentary aspects of this novel definitely made this book stand out to me, but I'm pretty sure that the story itself would have had the same effect (the pictures just really just brought it to the next level.) COUNTDOWN was the story of a young girl named Frannie who lived outside Washington, DC because her father was air force pilot and stationed there (just like the author!) Frannie is a pretty typical girl with pretty typical issues; however, she is also living in a constant state of anxiety. Much of her fears are due to the political situations of the time.
COUNTDOWN takes place in the early 1960s -- a time when our country was in a state of turmoil over the fear of a nuclear bomb. There were air raid drills in our schools, bomb shelters, and the Bay of Pigs incident to name just a few reasons why the citizens of our country were living on the edge. There were multiple references to 1960s pop culture that many children will find interesting like the introduction of fast food and McDonald's, a new product called duct tape, popular songs like Runaway and Do You Love Me (you can find a playlist from songs mentioned in the book here.) What I found so amazing about this novel was how well the author juxtaposed what was going on in the United States with what was going on in Frannie's life. Both were living in a state of uncertainty and a tremendous amount of change.
I have been a fan of Deborah Wiles ever since our mother daughter book club read ever since we read EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS (my review.) I think EACH LITTLE BIRD was also an amazing book, and I think it lent itself to one of our best discussions ever. In fact, I have collected Ms. Wiles' other books and I am hoping to read them with my daughter soon. Ms. Wiles is an award-winning author, and I think she's definitely got another hit on her hands with COUNTDOWN. The book has already received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly.
Believe me, I'll be mentioning this book to our mother-daughter group because I think it's a very special book that deserves to be shared. Not only is it a great story about a very likable young girl, but it also gives wonderful insight into the history of our country. I can assure you it's the perfect book club discussion book because it a multi-layered book. Some of the the topics for discussion include war, racial discrimination, freedom, fear, types of governments, sibling rivalry, honesty, insecurity, family dynamics, mental health issues, friendship, forgiveness, change, and lastly hope! There is a reading guide coming soon to Ms. Wiles' website.
I was very excited to learn that COUNTDOWN is the first in a trilogy of books. Needless to say, I can't wait for the next two books. COUNTDOWN is truly a very special and unique book that I highly recommend for readers of all ages! I just loved it!
Thanks to Big Honcho Media for sending me a review copy of this novel.
Giveaway: I am very excited that I have two copies of COUNTDOWN to share with two very lucky readers! To enter, just leave a comment with a valid email address telling me why you want to read this book -- that's it. This contest will be open until Tuesday, June 8th at 11:59 p.m. ET, and I will notify the winners the following day. This contest is open to U.S. addresses only. Good luck!