On March 17th 2009, author Deborah Wiles visited our school. Her visit supported our narrative writing that every student works on, and she encouraged students to tell their stories. This school year, her visit has been referenced numerous times in my own lessons, and teachers and students still talk about how much they loved her. Since her visit, I (and many other teachers) have continued to follow her blog (here and here and here) about the development of her upcoming novel, Countdown, which will be published in May 2010. This novel is a part of a trilogy that takes place in the sixties during the Cuban Missle Crisis. A few weeks ago, I received an email from Deborah Wiles announcing that her novel was now in the “galley” phase, which is an uncorrected proof of the book. She also said in the email that her publisher, Scholastic, was granting her several copies of the book to send out to readers and that I was one of the lucky few who would get to read the book before it was officially published in May. I was ecstatic!
I eagerly checked the mail each day hoping that the book had arrived, and during Spring Break it came. What perfect timing! I was able to sit each day and savor each page of this brilliant novel. Are you ready to hear about it?
Countdown follows the main character, Franny, as she faces life in 1962 during a turbulent time in US history. Franny’s life is filled with interesting characters. Uncle Otts is still living a war in his mind and keeps the family a bit on edge with his antics. Franny’s sister is going off to college and seems to have completely disappeared from the family. Franny’s dad is currently in the military and is always off on various missions, which keeps her mom a bit tense. Then, there’s Franny’s school friends, who provide her with lots of adventure, but also the feuding that comes with growing up with friends. While Franny is trying to discover how to make her way through her own life, she’s also having to cope with the inherent fear that has developed in the world due to President Kennedy’s announcement that Russia is sending nuclear missiles to Cuba. The threat of a bomb is always on Franny’s mind, and her school doesn’t help to relieve this fear with their constant reminders of duck and cover drills. How will Franny learn to heal the conflicts that she has with her friends? How will she and her family come together during this turbulent time? Will the United States ever be filled with peace instead of the constant thoughts and fears of war?
In Countdown, Deborah Wiles masterfully weaves a documentary novel that both takes us into the lives of one American family but also helps us to see the fearful history that took place during this time. As I read, I felt as if I had boarded a time machine and traveled back to the sixties. I felt the constant fear because as I read I was presented with music, news reports, presidential announcements, and advertisements that brought the thoughts of nuclear attack back to the front of my mind. Just as I was living Franny’s life with her and enjoying her moments and adventures with her friends and family, an announcement or a duck and cover drill would take place. I was never able to escape the fear of attack, and this made the novel so much more real. At the same time, I was also reminded through these same photographs and music of how the rest of the United States was trying to move on with their day-to-day lives and how there were other major events taking place at the exact same time. This is a must-read novel. It brings back a time in history that has much relevance to the fears and issues we face today. What might you learn from this novel? What might you experience as you take this journey with Franny?
Countdown will be available in bookstores in May. It will be available in our media center at the beginning of the next school year. I hope you’ll read it and see how it speaks to you. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Reviewed by Mr. Plemmons