Beth's Book-Nook Blog

Reviews of What I've Been Reading….

REVIEW: Countdown by Deborah Wiles

on September 20, 2010

I came across a review of the YA/children’s book Countdown by Deborah Wiles, calling it a documentary novel, and thought it sounded compelling, so I found it at my local library. Countdown follows a period in the fall of 1962 for 5th grader Frannie Chapman. The Cuban Missile Crisis is heating up, the US is dealing with fear of nuclear disaster (“duck and cover” is the slogan of the day), and Frannie’s home life is complicated by her mentally fragile uncle and secretive older sister who has started college and is becoming distant. Add in Frannie’s “perfect” little brother, her disciplinarian mother, her father who is often away for the military, and a best friend who becomes a back-stabber, and Frannie’s life is less than ordinary, and very real.

In spots throughout the book, Wiles has inserted lyrics, slogans, pictures, articles, etc. truly from 1962 to give you a sense of Frannie’s time and place. She paints a picture of Frannie’s neighborhood and home that is so realistic, I was not surprised to read in the afterward that she had based them on her own real life. I loved Frannie’s character, and I loved the memories it evoked in me of life in an earlier decade (for me, the 70’s – personally I wasn’t born in 1962). Frannie’s Saturday mornings are spent doing chores. Her family attends church on Sundays and she goes to Sunday school. The kids in her class walk home together to their neighborhood two blocks away. There is an abandoned quarry nearby where they play, even though they aren’t supposed to. The highlight for the class is an upcoming Halloween costume party that one of the girls is having. Frannie’s secret vice is playing her sister’s 45’s on her record player when she is not home. I ask you — does anyone still live like this anymore??

Countdown is the first in a trilogy. I hope they will all feature Frannie Chapman! I think I would find the documentary novel to be of great use in the classroom. It’s a nice way to make history come alive for young readers. My challenge with this book is where to place it — I’ve seen it as YA and as children’s. Frannie is eleven, so I’d think 4th grade readers, but the content can be used much older, in my opinion. I am curious what other readers thought.

All in all, a fine read that I enjoyed. I got mine from the “new” shelf at the library!!

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