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  • Published: New York : Scholastic 2010.
  • Year Published: 2010
  • Edition: 1st ed.; Uncorrected proof.
  • Description: 377, [18] p. : ill., maps ; 21 cm.
  • Language: English
  • Format: Book

Reading Level

  • Lexile: 800

ISBN/Standard Number

  • 9780545106054
  • 0545106052

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by Wiles, Debbie.

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Where To Find It

Call number: Fiction, Y Fiction / Wiles, Debbie

Available Copies: Downtown 1st Floor, Downtown Youth

Additional Details

Eleven-year-old Franny deals with the challenges of growing up against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Interspersed with the text are photographs, news items, and advertisements from the early sixties.

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It's 1962 and Franny is certain she's going to die. You see, President Kennedy just appeared on television and told the country that the United States is on the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. In the first children's book in recent memory set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a brief but nerve wracking time when the world was the closest to assured mutual destruction as it's ever been, Wiles has set a very ordinary story of a very ordinary girl. Franny worries about the same things all fifth graders do - why her best friend has suddenly started taunting her, where her big sister goes when she leaves the house, and whether the cute boy across the street likes her too - but she does so in a heightened, tense environment that we hope our children will never experience. Every night Franny goes to bed composing a letter to Khrushchev, appealing to his humanity and begging him to not push his Big Red Button. Her frustration over her teacher ignoring her in class is forgotten when sirens sound during recess and she realizes this might be the moment, when Russia finally decides to strike with nuclear warheads and it's all over.

Wiles has captured the cultural environment of 1962 for modern children in a possibly unparalled way. Through Franny and her friends and family we experience firsthand the terror that the Cold War wreaked on average American citizens. And, although today’s children probably haven’t even heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis, it’s apparent how close disaster actually was. Because we care so deeply for her characters, Wiles never has to preach to get her pacifist message across. At the same time, the American Forces are represented with dignity and respect. Franny’s is a military family. Her father is employed by the Air Force and her grandfather served during World War I. Wiles herself comes from a military family and is undoubtedly drawing from her own experiences when she portrays the sacrifices career military make for their country’s good. But the implied questions remain, Why do we still require these sacrifices of our citizens? Why is peace so hard to achieve? Of course there aren’t any answers. Still, it’s never too early for the next generation to begin wrestling with these questions.

Wiles does not document 1962 only through her narrative. Archival photographs, accompanied by facts, quotes, and snatches of popular song lyrics, are interspersed between chapters. The result is a truly holistic approach, plunging the reader headlong into the turbulence of the time period. In-between Franny’s story, we witness the rise of the Civil Rights and the feminist movements, the escalation of fighting in Vietnam, the preparations for the Space Race, and the onslaught of propaganda regarding nuclear war. Biographies of important figures (Harry Truman, The Kennedys, Pete Seeger, and Fannie Lou Hamer), written in a child’s didactic voice (are they Franny’s school reports?) are also present. They impart important information in an innocent voice that, for example, contrasts the staggering totals of Vietnam War dead with the fact that “The middle initial S in Harry S Truman’s name stood for nothing.” The only snag in Wiles’ non-traditional approach regards her intended audience. Although the ironic juxtaposition of song lyrics with period photographs is clever to an adult's eye, I agree with New York children's librarian Betsy Bird and believe that the pairing won't be understood in the same way by children. It's unlikely that young people will connect the words "You'll Never Walk Alone," which looms beneath a picture of school children "ducking and covering" under their desks, with the title of the popular Rogers and Hammerstein hit from Carousel or its out of context sentiment. But, as a positive, it could be an opportunity for educators to discuss the notion of “irony” with students and how Wiles is using it within her supplementary materials.

A historical note on the Cuban Missile Crisis appears after the novel’s conclusion. Wiles has also provided a list of suggested resources (books and websites), as well as photo credits.

Great book!

This is a good book for all tweens or teens interested in historic fiction from a kid's point of view.

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