Monday, June 28, 2010

COUNTDOWN by Deborah Wiles

It's 1962.  It's all about your collection of 45's, boy/girl parties, TV dinners, and McDonald's.  JFK is president, the Civil Rights Movement is just beginning, and Communists are evil.

Franny is eleven years old and in the fifth grade.  She has an older sister who is just starting college and a younger brother who dreams of becoming an astronaut.  Her father is an air force pilot who flies out of Andrews Air Force Base, her mother is a busy, bossy homemaker, and her Uncle Otts is crazy.

As Franny struggles to make her way through fifth grade she has the added challenge of dealing with the fear of every American - the threat of nuclear war.  Bomb shelters and air raid drills are part of daily life in her community.  It was bad enough that the Communists were threatening the US from the Soviet Union, but now there's the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The Russians have set up shop in Cuba and have installed nuclear missiles.  They are pointed at and capable of destroying major cities all over the country.

Life for Franny is all about succeeding in school, pleasing her parents, putting up with the frustration of her siblings and irritable best friends, and at the same time, learning the "duck and cover" drills and survival skills necessary to live through an atomic blast.  Life isn't easy for a fifth grader these days.

COUNTDOWN is a fascinating account of one young girl's experience during the early 1960's.  Author Deborah Wiles takes readers deep into the time period through Franny's thoughts and emotions.  Wiles makes Franny come alive as she describes her fear, her hopes and dreams, her guilt, and her pleasures.  Mixed in with her story are factual accounts of the tumultuous times, political speeches, advertisements, and survival instructions that provide an accurate timeline of the period.  COUNTDOWN is history come to life for both teen readers of today and readers who have personal memories of those trying times.  Don't miss this one.

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