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Countdown (The Sixties Trilogy Series #1)

Countdown (The Sixties Trilogy Series #1)

4.3 8
by Deborah Wiles

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Four starred reviews greeted this new, groundbreaking classic from Deborah Wiles!

Franny Chapman just wants some peace. But that's hard to get when her best friend is feuding with her, her sister has disappeared, and her uncle is fighting an old war in his head. Her saintly younger brother is no help, and the cute boy across the street only complicates things.


Four starred reviews greeted this new, groundbreaking classic from Deborah Wiles!

Franny Chapman just wants some peace. But that's hard to get when her best friend is feuding with her, her sister has disappeared, and her uncle is fighting an old war in his head. Her saintly younger brother is no help, and the cute boy across the street only complicates things. Worst of all, everyone is walking around just waiting for a bomb to fall.

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 with how to deal with what's going on with her family and friends. But somehow she's got to make it.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Praise for Countdown:

* “Wiles skillfully keeps many balls in the air, giving readers a story that appeals across the decades as well as offering enticing paths into the history.” - Booklist, starred review

* “The larger story…told here in an expert coupling of text and design, is how life endures, even triumphs, no matter how perilous the times.” - Horn Book, starred review

* “References to duct tape (then newly invented), McDonald's and other pop culture lend authenticity to this phenomenal story of the beginnings of radical change in America.” - Kirkus, starred review

* “Wiles palpably recreates the fear kids felt when air-raid sirens and duck-and-cover drills were routine…this story is sure to strike a chord with those living through tough times today.” - Publishers Weekly, starred review

Publishers Weekly
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)
Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 forms the backdrop for this coming-of-age story of eleven-year-old Franny Chapman. Her life as a fifth grader has become very complicated. She has become invisible to her teacher; her college-age sister, Jo Ellen, has become quite secretive; her younger brother, Drew, is Mr. Perfect; her Uncle Otts is acting strangely and becoming increasingly more of an embarrassment to her. What is more, her best friend, Margie, is distancing herself from Franny. With the Cold War heating up as Russian missiles are within striking distance of her home near Washington, DC, Franny must deal with the threat of war as well as the unsettling events of her own life. Wiles brings together all the elements of the story as she creates a most satisfying ending. Interspersed with Franny's story are photographs and text from songs, advertisements, and speeches from the 1960s. They provide background on the social and political events of the day for young readers, and bring back many memories for adults who lived through this time. Wiles' beautifully written, carefully crafted tale immerses readers in the turbulence of the early 1960s while reminding us that human nature remains constant. The literary allusions to bright light and blindness are successfully carried throughout the story. The photographs are not chronologically presented, which may be a bit confusing to some readers at the younger age level—a very minor concern. This is Book One of "The Sixties Trilogy." I anxiously await Book Two. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Franny lives with her family in suburban Maryland just outside Andrews Air Force Base, circa summer of 1962. Kennedy and Khrushchev's duel on the world stage plays in the background while the fifth grader worries about her best friend's betrayal; adores her college-age sister, Jo Ellen; and fights with her saintly little brother, Drew. When not navigating the ups and downs of early adolescence, she writes letters to Khrushchev, prepares for air-raid drills, and investigates her sister's coded letters from "Ebenezer." At its core, Countdown is a straightforward, no-surprises tale of historical fiction that at times reads like a memoir. Its unique format, however, is anything but run of the mill. Planned as the first in a trilogy, the book has been dubbed a "documentary novel." In a successful effort to give readers a sense of the country's total preoccupation with all things nuclear and Communist during the height of the Cold War, Franny's narrative is punctuated by newspaper clippings, advertisements for bomb-shelter materials, news broadcasts, brief vignettes about famous figures, ephemera, and more. The overall result is somewhat frenetic but certainly effective; readers are not only immersed in the era, but also experience a feeling of bombardment similar to that felt by Franny. While the narrative may not have stood solidly on its own, the documentary format and personalization of the major events of the decade will draw and dazzle readers.—Jill Heritage Maza, Greenwich High School, CT
Kirkus Reviews
Just as 11-year-old Franny Chapman squabbles with her once-best friend in their neighborhood near Andrews Air Force Base, outside of Washington, D.C., President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev are also at odds. Franny's spot-on "Heavens to Murgatroyd" dialogue captures the trepidation as the world holds its breath during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Adding to the pressure are her college-student, activist older sister, who may be a spy, her aspiring-astronaut younger brother, who refuses to eat, her steely, chain-smoking mother, who has inexplicably burst into tears, her often-absent pilot father, now spending long days on base, and her PTSD-suffering, World War I-veteran Uncle Otts, who's digging up the front yard to build a bomb shelter. Wiles's "documentary novel," based on her own childhood memories and the first in The Sixties Project trilogy, has a striking scrapbook feel, with ingeniously selected and placed period photographs, cartoons, essays, song lyrics, quotations, advertisements and "duck and cover" instructions interspersed through the narrative. References to duct tape (then newly invented), McDonald's and other pop culture lend authenticity to this phenomenal story of the beginnings of radical change in America. (historical note, author's note, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 10-13)

Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Sixties Trilogy Series , #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Deborah Wiles is the author of the picture book Freedom Summer and three novels: Love, Ruby Lavender; The Aurora County All-Stars; and Each Little Bird That Sings, a National Book Award finalist. She has vivid memories of ducking and covering under her school desk during air raid drills at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. She also sang in the Glee Club, was a champion speller, and hated Field Day. Deborah lives in Atlanta, Georgia. You can visit her on the web at deborahwiles.com.

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Countdown 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Aradanryl More than 1 year ago
Masterful depiction of life in the early 1960s told from the viewpoint of an eleven-year-old middle-class white girl living on the East Coast. Superb writing weaves the normal daily events along with the incredible fear of a world on the brink of nuclear disaster (great visual depiction of the discussion between JFK and Nikita Khrushchev about mutual destruction) and the beginnings of major social change. I liked the way the author's respect for the reader's judgment is woven throughout the book, allowing the reader to form their own opinions of the myriad of situations. There is a whole lot included in this first of a series and the opportunities for discussion are constant. I can't help wondering if our adult book club (many of us were children during the 1960s) would enjoy this. I'm hoping my (adult) daughter will read this one, there is such a lot to talk about. As far as format, I really liked the colorful cover and the 45 that also looks like a target. Loved the inclusion of photos, quotes, lyrics, and all the other materials that added substance. I could see how it could be overwhelming though but these times were a beginning of substantial diverse changes in our society and that comes through clearly throughout the book. I definitely appreciate the author's work and am thankful she took the time to write this book. For me, it was a thorough walk down memory lane. It really is disconcerting to find that many parts of my life experiences, even though they don't feel all that long ago, are now considered history.
zeppelin_fan97 More than 1 year ago
Countdown Scholastic Press, 2010, 377 pp $17.99 Deborah Wiles ISBN978-0-545-10605-4 It's 1962 and Franny is living in a country on its toes. Kennedy has just announced that the Soviet Union has sent nuclear missiles to Cuba, which might be able to reach as far as Washington D.C.. 5th grader Franny's world is falling apart. Her sister is no where to be found, her uncle is reliving an old war- on their front lawn. Her mother is annoying, her brother is the star child, a cute boy isn't helping, and everyone is terrified of a bomb killing them all. All she keeps hearing from everyone is, "That means duck and cover fast wherever you are. There's no time to look around and wait! If there's a flash, duck and cover! And do it fast." Countdown, reminds me of what it was like to be a 10-year-old, but with a twist of time. Don't be turned off by the young protagonist because this is not just a novel, but a documentary of the early 1960's as well. This puts you into their world. In between the chapters, there are stories, pictures, newspaper articles, or songs from the time period. This was probably my favorite part of Countdown. It also makes the book entertaining for an older reader. There were several scenes where I could remember doing something just like what Franny was doing. I was cast back into my 5th grade year, trying to be cool, getting the cute boys (even though I was way too young) and dealing with family. The character growth was just like real life, which I thought was interesting, because most of the time authors tend to cram a lot of growth into a short book. Wiles makes it natural. Overall I enjoyed Countdown. I would recommend it to anyone 11 or 12 year's old or older. As an older reader I loved it because it reminded me of being young, but a younger reader might adore it because they can relate to it. Even though the main character is a girl, I think boys would like it as well. Another reason I fancied it was because I have never read a book written in this time period. I have never heard of another book about the Cuban missile crisis. I think that I might have appreciated this book because it mentions the problems in the world. The world will never be perfect, we will always have issues, but we need to learn from our past to move forward, and stop history from repeating itself.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
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 U.S. 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.
LauraFabiani More than 1 year ago
When my 9 year-old daughter said, "Mom, I don't think I'll ever find a book as good as Countdown," I pointed out to her that we'd read many books she loved and there would be others. She replied, "Yeah, but Countdown made me think." To me this summarizes how powerful this book was in hooking my daughter and me as we were transported to a different era. Interspersed throughout the novel is footage of the events that took place during the Cuba crisis in 1962 as it parallels the momentous events that are also happening in 11 year-old Franny Chapman's life. Franny is living during the period when John F. Kennedy is president of the USA and the threat of a nuclear war between her country and Russia is very real. So real in fact that they are taught and trained at school what to do in case of a bomb attack. These events affect her family; her father, a pilot in the US army, her uncle, a war veteran who suffers relapses from the 1914 war he fought, her older sister who goes to college and is touched by the radical changes in society, and her Mom who has to keep her cool throughout. In addition, Franny finds herself at odds with Margie, her best friend while trying to deal with school and home issues. The entire story takes place in the span of two suspenseful weeks, and my daughter was addicted. She said she loved imagining what would happen next, and although the ending was not quite what she expected, this book is still one of her favorites. I want to point out that Franny's mom is a smoker, and I explained to my daughter that in the 60s the dangerous effects of smoking were unknown. Smoking was popular then and was allowed in places not allowed today. Between this topic and all the others brought up in this novel, my daughter and I had many enlightening conversations. Blending this story with anecdotes, quotes, news coverage and mini-biographies of prominent people of the 1960s made reading this novel unlike any others we have ever read. What a great way to get a history lesson! Deborah Wiles succeeds in bringing this time period to life. We even looked up on the Internet some of the songs mentioned and my kids fell in love with Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. Remember that one? My daughter and I are happy to note that this is the first book in The Sixties Trilogy. We eagerly look forward to the next one. If it's anything like this one, it will be a sure hit.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Herolamb More than 1 year ago
Countdown follows the main character, Franny, as she faces life in 1962 during a turbulent time in US history. Franny's life is filled with interesting characters. Uncle Otts is still living a war in his mind and keeps the family a bit on edge with his antics. Franny's sister is going off to college and seems to have completely disappeared from the family. Franny's dad is currently in the military and is always off on various missions, which keeps her mom a bit tense. Then, there's Franny's school friends, who provide her with lots of adventure, but also the feuding that comes with growing up with friends. While Franny is trying to discover how to make her way through her own life, she's also having to cope with the inherent fear that has developed in the world due to President Kennedy's announcement that Russia is sending nuclear missiles to Cuba. The threat of a bomb is always on Franny's mind, and her school doesn't help to relieve this fear with their constant reminders of duck and cover drills. How will Franny learn to heal the conflicts that she has with her friends? How will she and her family come together during this turbulent time? Will the United States ever be filled with peace instead of the constant thoughts and fears of war? In Countdown, Deborah Wiles masterfully weaves a documentary novel that both takes us into the lives of one American family but also helps us to see the fearful history that took place during this time. As I read, I felt as if I had boarded a time machine and traveled back to the sixties. I felt the constant fear because as I read I was presented with music, news reports, presidential announcements, and advertisements that brought the thoughts of nuclear attack back to the front of my mind. Just as I was living Franny's life with her and enjoying her moments and adventures with her friends and family, an announcement or a duck and cover drill would take place. I was never able to escape the fear of attack, and this made the novel so much more real. At the same time, I was also reminded through these same photographs and music of how the rest of the United States was trying to move on with their day-to-day lives and how there were other major events taking place at the exact same time. This is a must-read novel. It brings back a time in history that has much relevance to the fears and issues we face today. What might you learn from this novel? What might you experience as you take this journey with Franny?