144. Countdown by Deborah Wiles

Countdown by Deborah Wiles (Canada) - (USA)
The Sixties Trilogy, Book One

Pages: 388 pages
Ages: 11+
Finished: July 24, 2010
First Published: May 1, 2010
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre: Historical Fiction, ya
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

I am eleven years old, and I am invisible.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Scholastic Canada.

Reason for Reading: I enjoy historical fiction but the amount of photographs and media images in the book was what intrigued me the most.

If anybody had told me I was going to absolutely love a book that's main historical setting was the Cuban Missile Crisis I would have said "Sorry, I don't even read that kind of political book" then the next thing I'd say would be "BTW, what is the Cuban Missile Crisis?"

The book takes place over the last few weeks in October, 1962 and is somewhat autobiographical using the author's personal life and memories to tell the story of growing up in the sixties. Taking the author's place is Franny Chapman, an ordinary girl with a little brother who can do no wrong in her parents' eyes. It's the story of Franny's life; her best friend is starting to avoid her and becoming friends with a girl whose mother is divorced who Franny is not allowed to have anything to do with. Her uncle, great uncle really, lives with them as he raised her father, but he is slipping into dementia, calls everyone soldier and is embarrassing the whole family to the neighbourhood. Franny's father is in the Air Force and always going off on trips seeming never to be there when the worst family crises arise. Franny's older sister, who is in college, is up to something mysterious, something she has disagreed with their mother about, and then one night she just doesn't come back home.

The background is the height of the cold war. The children are inundated with the "duck and cover" routine should a nuclear bomb hit. They have practice drills and watch in class movies to make sure that instinctively they know what to do. The Bay of Pigs has ended and there is talk of the Russians attacking with a nuclear bomb. Then President Kennedy comes on the TV and explains the situation in Cuba involving the Russians and nuclear missiles aimed at the United States. The media quickly label this the Cuban Missile Crisis. Also spread throughout the book are the rumblings of the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. As the book ends, I believe the set up has been made that the background of the second book will be Civil Rights.

The story is just simply fantastic. I read the book in a day as I just couldn't put it down. The relationships between all the children were very real and the attitudes and lifestyle of the sixties shone through making the story very authentic. A very unique aspect of this book, which has been called a "documentary novel" is that in the middle of the ongoing story it will suddenly turn to a non-fiction essay on a person who has been mentioned. These are very interesting and flow right along with the story feeling perfectly natural in their placement. We learn of both Jack and Jackie Kennedy this way, along with Harry S. Truman, Pete Seeger, Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer and others.

What makes this book truly amazing though is the combination of text with photographs and graphic media. Every so often, there is a graphic section which enhances the story telling through photographs, quotes, headlines, cartoons, posters, song lyrics and much more. These follow the storyline and political events are introduced through the graphic media before it becomes a part of the textual story which really enhances and makes clear the understanding of otherwise potentially difficult topics. But the photos also just immerse you in the culture and era with sports events, space accomplishments, popular singers and stark photos of reality.

I've never read anything quite like this before and think the combination of text and media has been put together brilliantly and with a compelling, well-written story this is a fantastic book. I am eagerly awaiting the second book!


  1. My daughter and I felt exactly the same way. We loved this book and we are eagerly waiting for the next book in this original trilogy.


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