It's 1962, and it seems that the whole country is living in fear. When President Kennedy goes on television to say that Russia is sending nuclear missiles to Cuba, it only gets worse. Franny doesn't know how to deal with what's going on in the world -- no more than she knows how to deal with what's going on with her family and friends. But somehow she's got to make it through.
Featuring a captivating story interspersed with footage from 1962, award-winning author Deborah Wiles has created a documentary novel that will put you right alongside Franny as she navigates a dangerous time in both her history and our history.
- ISBN-13: 9780545106054
- ISBN-10: 0545106052
- Publisher: Scholastic Press
- Publish Date: May 2010
- Page Count: 377
- Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Series: Sixties Trilogy #1
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 108.
- Review Date: 2010-04-26
- Reviewer: Staff
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)
Survive or thrive: it's a scary thing
Here’s something new in the world of children’s literature—a documentary novel, in which the narrator’s fictional story set in 1962 is interwoven with photographs, newspaper headlines, song lyrics and ads. The narrative, however, is not stuck in one particular era; it extends back in time through Uncle Otts’ stories of World War I, and forward through the author’s expository pieces on such topics as John F. Kennedy and the later Civil Rights movement. It’s an effective way to demonstrate how our lives are wrapped up in our times, affected by the past and shaping the future.
Franny Chapman is 11 years old and in fifth grade, trying to balance her home life, school life and all of the bad news about the state of the world. TV reports about Vietnam and the Cuban Missile Crisis and duck-and-cover-drills at school make her confused and fearful. She composes a letter to Khrushchev, keeps up with her school work and helps around the house, but she’s convinced she’s “a goner, a kid who stays up half the night trying to figure out the horror of the world and trying to survive it.”
She has to survive fifth grade, too—a new awareness of boys, a first boy-girl party, a friend who becomes not so friendly and an older sister who doesn’t seem to have time for her anymore.
Franny rings true, her voice pitch-perfect, as an intelligent and earnest young girl just trying to get along. She does survive and even becomes a hero, loses a friend and regains her, and finds a sense of herself in the larger scheme of things. By the end of this innovative and finely wrought novel, Franny sees the sense of her older sister’s advice: “There are always scary things happening in the world. There are always wonderful things happening. And it’s up to you to decide how you’re going to approach the world . . . how you’re going to live in it, and what you’re going to do.”
Countdown is a sure contender for this year’s Newbery Medal.