Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hanukkah Book Review: Two Books About the 1960's

Tonight is the last night of Hanukkah, so I thought I would end this series with a big shebang and review TWO books that deal with the same time period--the 1960's--but from very different perspectives.

The first book is Countdown by Deborah Wiles.  On one hand, this is a VERY middle school book, with the characters worrying about how they are viewed by their peers, how they get along with their siblings, who is their friend and who is not, whether or not they are interested in the opposite sex--and whether or not the opposite sex is interested back, all those sorts of things.  However, Wiles takes it to another level by setting all the action during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.  The protagonist, Franny Chapman, thinks she has enough to worry about, what with her father being an Air Force Pilot stationed outside Washington, DC, her perfectionist mother, her uncle who is still reliving his World War II combat days, and her goody two-shoes brother who never tells a lie and wants to be an astronaut (not to mention a best friend who isn't acting too friendly and an intriguing boy who may or may not be a romantic interest).  But then nuclear warheads are discovered in Cuba, and Franny and her peers live in fear of atomic attack--on TOP of the usual early adolescent angst.

I think Wiles does an excellent job of conveying what it was like living through those scary and confusing times, especially as a child (where they were drilled in hiding under desks in case of nuclear that would make a difference!).  She also inserts all sorts of graphics from the days in questions--pictures, posters, song lyrics, protest signs, newspaper articles, and other similar items--to try to capture the essence of that unique time in American history.  The story line also touches on the civil rights movement and other political issues going on at that time.  Maybe one of the reasons she portrays the feelings of those times so well is that she herself lived through them as a daughter of a pilot stationed at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland during the early '60s.  In fact, she calls  Countdown a "documentary novel," and says it is the first of a trilogy she calls the Sixties Project, in which she tries to depict that decade in way that adolescents can really experience what it felt like to live through those times.

I was really impressed with this book.  I thought she was really successful in capturing the feel of the era in a way that today's young people could understand.  I can't wait to read the other books in this series, which are supposed to be set in 1966 and 1968.

Another potential Newbery book set during this decade is One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. This book takes place during the summer of 1968, and focuses much more on the civil rights issues of the times.  The story is told by Delphine, one of three self-proclaimed "colored" sisters who have been sent from Brooklyn, NY to Oakland, CA to meet their mother, who abandoned the family when the youngest girl was an infant.   But when their mother refuses to deal with them, even when they come to her place in California, the girls spend the day in a Black Panther summer camp for raising revolutionaries--a far cry from their live in Brooklyn, where their father and grandmother coach them in how to be "good Negroes" and adapt as a minority in the majority white culture.   The sisters learn a lot about themselves, the politics of the times, the secret dynamics of their family, and even a bit about their mother during this summer that changes their lives.

Once again, I can't praise the author enough for how well she puts the reader in the shoes of a character that is facing issues that today's youth probably can't imagine.  She is also the only one of all the books I've review that deals with things from the perspective of an ethnic minority--a valuable input, especially for families like mine that are about as WASPy as you can get.  The protagonist is so honest, down-to-earth, responsible, non-victimy, and ultimately kind (if sometimes mis-informed) that I can't imagine people NOT falling in love with her.  And I really appreciate any book that reminds me what it is like to be a minority without making me feel guilty about it.

Both of these books are GREAT books for a middle school reader, and EXCELLENT resources when you are learning about the 1960's.  I recommend them not only for our children, but for ourselves as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment