It’s 1962, and 5th-grader Franny Chapman lives in fear of an atomic attack by the Russians on her Washington, D.C.-area neighborhood.
Air-raid drills at school, her Air Force father on high alert, President Kennedy delivering somber speeches on TV, and her Uncle Otts building a bomb shelter in their yard–all these things add to her worries.
Then there’s the preteen angst of fighting with her best friend and crushing on the cute boy down the road.
This substantial documentary novel (377 p.) began as a picture book in the author’s mind way back in 1996 but is now just book one in “The Sixties Trilogy.” Primary source materials (song lyrics, photographs, quotes, posters, etc.) are interspersed throughout the book.
Deborah Wiles sets this story in the very neighborhood where she grew up. As someone born in 1959 who also grew up in this area, I thoroughly enjoyed the authentic stroll down memory lane with Deborah.
Obviously an incredible amount of research and planning went into the content and format of this book. Writing an historical fiction book about the Cold War era is a tricky thing. What I’m not sure about is how many readers in the targeted audience will make it all the way through this novel. I have a lot of emotional attachment and background knowledge surrounding the time and place, so I don’t consider myself a competent judge in this matter. However, even I felt like the story dragged a bit in the middle.
Nonetheless, Deborah Wiles has admirably completed an amazing book which conveys both information and emotion about the Cold War era. I hope that it finds a spot in some social studies classes.
Recommended for grades 5-8.
Awards/Lists: Children’s Books of the Year 2011–Ages 12-14; Booklist Books for Middle Readers 2010; Notable Children’s Books 2011; Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts 2011; Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2011; Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Children’s Books 2010