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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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