Countdown by Deborah Wiles

54625890Cindy: Lynn raved about Countdown (Scholastic, 2010) early this spring, as did many other bloggers and reviewers so I’ve been eager to read it but we were waiting for its publication to discuss it further. I was not disappointed. If you’ve not read it yet, hunt it down and do so. If you’ve not bought it for your library yet, do so.

I’ve heard Lynn talk about the Cuban Missile Crisis and her memories of sitting with her family, holding their collective breath with the nation on that fateful eve in 1962 and there are few books for kids that address that pivotal moment in history. David Almond delivered in a masterful book called The Fire-Eaters (Delacorte, 2004) that we both admired, but Wiles has created an equally well-written story that will be more accessible to the masses. It’s a novel that teachers will find success in teaching or in reading aloud. The primary audience is middle school for sure, especially with an 11-year-old protagonist, but the structure of the novel with the interspersed documentary material and the thematic subject matter will help this story reach an older and wider audience. Adults will reminisce about everyday life as a child during the “duck and cover” years and children will respond to the timeless issues of dealing with parents, siblings, friends and teachers.

You can read Ilene Cooper’s Booklist review for more particulars about the book but we’d like to use our space to ask our readers’ opinions about the format of the book. I’ll ask the first part and leave the second to Lynn. Wiles has created a pretty special structure here with the inclusion of music lyrics, photographs, essays, biographies, etc. complementing but breaking up the telling of Franny’s story. If you’ve read the book already, how did you like the structure? Were you tempted to skip over the extra matter to continue with the narrative story or were you sucked into the nonfiction elements that Wiles uses to support the story?

Lynn: I adored this intriguing book both for the imaginative use of nonfiction sections, posters, music lyrics AND for the wonderfully written story. I thought one of its many strengths was way the period details were so beautifully infused into the story without ever intruding into the flow of the narrative. Which brings me to the question being asked by a lot of people: do the highly visual documentary sections impact the book’s chances for the Newbery?

The Newbery criteria states: Each book is to be considered as a contribution to American literature. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.

Neither of us have spent enough time yet with the Newbery handbook to qualify as experts. Our initial take on this issue is that the textual nonfiction additions provide much of the information conveyed by the illustrations so that removing the illustrations from consideration does not detract significantly from the merits of the book.  What do YOU think?

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

4 Comments on "Countdown by Deborah Wiles"

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  1. greenbeanteenqueen@gmail.com' Sarah says:

    I really enjoyed this one and the narrative is wonderful and I think that’s what will give it a shot at the shiny medal come January. I liked the format and found it interesting. I just wondered if tweens reading it would understand the pictures, quotes, etc because without prior knowledge-and I don’t know if they’d check the citations in the back. I’m curious to see how young readers respond to it. I also would love to see this one used in a classroom-it would be such a good way to look at history and make it understandable and relateable.

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