Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Middle school novel Countdown by Deborah Wiles

 For all of you under the age of 50, that is a 45 rpm record on the cover of the book Countdown.  A 45 would usually have two songs recorded on it, the best one on the A side and another on the flip side.  Sometimes a really good artists like Elvis, the Beach Boys, or the Beetles would score two hits on the same 45.  Why did Deborah Wiles and her editors select a 45 for the cover of her sixties documentary novel?  I don't know for sure, but you will find the music of October, 1962 mentioned throughout the book.  In fact, you can find a I-tunes playlist of all those songs on Wiles' website. 

First, let me give you a short plot introduction  and then I'll explain the term documentary novel.  It is October, 1962, and sixth grader Franny's life is not going smoothly.  Her college age sister is acting secretive and is spending all her time away from home.  Her best friend is not talking to Franny.And Franny is interested in the boy next door.  Will he notice her?
Then world politics enters all their lives.  President Kennedy announces that the Soviet Untion is sending nuclear missiles into Cuba.  Suddenly all those safety drills at school have more meaning and Franny's little brother can't seem to get "Duck and cover" out of his mind.  And their World War I vet great uncle seems to be reliving his war in the Chapman familiy's front yard.  But most worrisome to Franny is Dad's assignment as one of the air force pilots who protects the President's jet.

Deborah Wiles does a superb job on her website explaining her motivation in writing this book and also explains her style which she has termed a "documentary novel."  What she has done is pull all kinds of photos, cartoons, advertisments,and headlines from the early 60's, thus giving the reader a real immersion in the time.  For me it was a walk down memory lane, but I can see how the abudant inclusion of images will help take the younger reader to a time totally unkown to them.

This book came out in late 2010 and when I "booktalked" this to all my junior high classes right after we got copies of the book, I included music from the "playlist" and also showed Presdient Kennedy's speech telling the Russians to get out of Cuba.  It is this type of top notch writing for young adults and middle school readers that will miss now that I am retired.  I hope to keep abreast of what's new and whose work is the best, but I know it will be hard to do.

Wiles has done a commendable job of making history come alive, and at the same time tells a good story about growing up. I am happy to say this title is supposed to be part of a trilogy.   A little extra info -- Deborah Wiles' father was a pilot in 1962, assigned to protecting the president's jet.

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