It’s 1962 again, just as in Deborah Wiles’ Countdown (Semicolon review here), and while JFK and Khrushchev play chicken in the Cuban Missle Crisis, Juliet Klostermeyer and her friends are competing with the boys in a series of “challenges” to see who’s best, the boys or the girls. Starting with a simple foot race, the challenges escalate until it’s obvious that somebody’s bound to get hurt. Juliet just wants the wars to be over, both of them, but her friend Patsy is determined that the girls will win, no matter what it takes.
As in Countdown, This Means War! was a book filled with duck and cover drills, bomb shelters, and people living in fear. And again, I thought the fear factor was overdone. Maybe we were just too dumb to be afraid in West Texas where I grew up. I remember worrying about tornados, about fires, about drug-crazed hippies like Charles Manson, but not about atomic bombs.
What I liked about This Means War! was the mirror effect of having the children involved in their own escalating war while the Communists and the U.S. were busy daring one another be the first to back down in a nuclear confrontation. The children’s war does get out of hand, and it’s obvious that the lesson that they learn about how easily a game can turn dangerous is the same lesson that countries need to learn about their own disputes. However, the lesson is never stated outright, and the author trusts her readers to get it by themselves. A wise decision.
I liked this book just as much as I did Countdown, and if I were to teach this era in history in a middle grade classroom, I’d be tempted to use both books. Let half the class read one and half the class read the other, and then have a discussion of the two books and what the students learned from each one. The Red Umbrella would be another good book to include in a unit on this time period. Even though it takes place a bit before 1962, and even though it’s more appropriate for a little bit older audience, The Red Umbrella does look at Castro’s Cuba from a Cuban (American) point of view.
So, what other books, fiction or nonfiction, would you include in a unit on the 1960′s for middle grade children?