A Great Historical Novel for Middle Grade Readers

Review: Countdown by Deborah Wiles

Franny Chapman is eleven and her world is falling apart. The world is transfixed by the Cuban Missile Crisis. They have nuclear attack drills at school, her Uncle is obsessed by communists and wants to build a bomb shelter in the middle of their lawn, her older sister is away at college, her best friend has suddenly become her enemy, but most of all, Franny is really, really nervous about her first boy-girl party.

Deborah Wiles deftly weaves speeches, song lyrics and pictures from 1962 to create an immersive tapestry of a pivotal year in American history. Kids who prefer realistic novels will love Countdown because the writing puts you firmly in Franny’s shoes, while the documentary passages and images between chapters teaches you all you need to know (and probably all Franny did know) about the politics and current events of the time. Countdown‘s many pictures and innovative layout should appeal to reluctant readers and kids increasingly used to finding information online. The novel’s fast pace and child’s eye view gives the reader the feeling of being in a moving vehicle hurtling towards disaster, and while you sense you should and maybe could do something to avert disaster, you just don’t know how to drive yet.

Countdown is the first in a projected trilogy of novels about the sixties by Wiles, and I can’t wait to read the next, and discuss it with my kids.


Countdown was named an Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Bookseller’s  Association.

Deborah Wiles’ resources relating to the world of 1962, including a playlist of music featured in the book and the original “Duck and Cover” video that explained nuclear attack to school children.

Deborah Wiles tells us about Countdown in her own words:

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1 comment

  1. PragmaticMom’s avatar

    Thank you for this review on Countdown. I have read a few books by Deborah Wiles and have loved them all. I have seen this book but haven’t read it but now I definitely will. I do love how historical fiction makes the past come alive, though the Cold War was not a period that I want to relive again!

    Pragmatic Mom
    I write a blog on parenting, education and children’s literature.

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