The concept for Deborah Wiles' Sixties Trilogy of novels, Countdown, Revolution & Anthem, is wonderful:
fiction stories, set firmly in a time period (the 1960s), and supported (scaffolded) for middle grade readers with lots of pictures, documents, poetry, images, news headlines, and more.
Countdown is set during the 13-day period of the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962, and is by far the best plotted fiction story of the three.
It tells the tale of tween Franny. Franny's life is super-duper complicated and embarrassing, compared to the perfect, white-picket-fence lives of the other kids' living on her block.
For starters, her grandfather -- who survived WWII -- lives with them and digs a giant hole in the front yard for a fall-out shelter, and her mother sends him to the veteran's hospital for "observation."
Her idealistic big sister strikes out on her own, ripping her independence from the family (and her tale is continued in the next book).
Her best friend steals one of her big sister's letters, and not understanding the "code" it contains, is on the brink of turning in Franny and her family for being Communist sympathizers without really understanding what that is or what it entails.
And Franny's little brother can do no wrong, no matter what he says or does, as he's still in that "angelic little boy" phase.
But events -- the Cuban Missile Crisis -- unfold so fast the family barely has time to convert the basement workshop area into a genuine fall-out shelter and stock it with food and provisions. (Apropos for corona virus toilet paper hoarding, perhaps?)
Can they learn to tolerate and love each other? Mend their friendships and sister-ship? Or will events sweep away their ability to be understanding of each other?
This is the slimmest -- fewest number of pages -- of the three books. It starts with 15 pages of images, quotes, headlines of newspaper and TV broadcasts, and song lyrics from the time period, all non-fiction.
Scattered throughout the story are the following: biographical information about President Harry S. Truman, singer Pete Seeger, President J.F.K, text of his Oct. 22, 1962 speech to Khrushchev and a short biography of Frannie Lou Townsend Hamer.
Countdown Discussion Guide from Scholastic. This guide offers 12 discussion questions and seven (7) questions about the setting and integrating the images, documents and headlines into understanding the story. There's also a two page interview with the author, a list of further suggested reading both fiction and non-fiction, and a list of web sites for students to explore the topics further.
On the pay for teaching materials site, Teachers pay Teachers, there's only one FREE resource for the book, a scrapbooking activity, but there are several resources for less than $10 to teach this book.
The second book is set during the Freedom Summer of 1964.
This tale is written in dual points of view (POV) -- from a young white girl, Sunny, which I felt was the book's strongest POV, and a Black teen boy, Raymond.
Sunny and her older brother, her step-mother's son, Gillette, sneak into the pool late one night. They think they're alone, until they're not -- and Sunny crashes in the dark against someone, a Black boy who's doing the exact same thing they're doing -- elicitly cooling down from the heat of summer -- but all she ever sees of him are his pristine, brand-new high tops.
Her screaming draws the local Deputy. The pool is for whites only. Sunny and Gillette promise to tell their father they snuck in and got caught. Of course, Sunny doesn't.
Raymond, the owner of the shoes, escapes and gets home without getting caught by the Deputy. He even convinces his mother he was swimming in the "river."
But now Sunny's on the lookout for those shoes.
Over the summer, volunteer activists with the Freedom Summer come to town and one, a young lady, stays in Raymond's home. She sleeps in his bed! They set up shop in a community center offering to register Black voters, who up to this point in Greenwood, Mississippi have been turned away at the courthouse under a myriad of Jim Crow laws.
It's here that Franny sister's story, from the first book, continues, as a Freedom Summer volunteer.
It's not long until President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act into law and tensions ramp up. Racist white restaurants and businesses become "members-only" clubs to exclude Blacks and yet again circumvent the new laws.
While the Freedom Summer volunteers encourage Black residents to register to vote and solidify the changes of the Civil Rights Act, doing so is more dangerous than ever.
The heat is as unrelenting as the prejudice. Fed up and wanting to exercise his rights, by law, to watch a movie and cool down in the heat, Raymond goes to the theater, where Sunny's cousin works the ticket counter, and up to this point was a racist whites-only theater. He buys a ticket but news that he's in the theater reaches racist whites in town, and they assemble outside the theater. They spark a riot and storm the theater, trying to capture him. The crowd is an ugly lynch mob. Sunny and her father smuggle Raymond out a back exit -- but the local sheriff arrests Raymond and jails him, nonetheless, even though he's done nothing illegal or wrong.
Tensions continue escalating, and I won't spoil how the story ends -- but know, Raymond pays a horrific price and nothing really changes in town.
This book is appreciably larger than the first. It begins with 40 pages of time-period specific material, photos, headlines, song lyrics, a map of the Mississippi Summer Project and more.
Non-fiction documents included throughout the story include: SNCC recruiting brochure text, biographical information about Bob Moses, text from KKK leaflets, interviews with residents about housing integration, the FBI's "Missing Persons" poster for the three activists (Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner) who disappeared and were later found murdered, FAQs about the Freedom School Curriculum, a short biography of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, text of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and more. Much more.
The text itself is daunting. It's thick, heavy and hard to hold. On an e-reader or in physical copy, I can see students overloading with all that's thrown at them. At the same time, it's excellent for building time-period specific knowledge of original documents. Strong readers in a class of 8th graders could tackle it for independent reading, as it's a bit below a high school reading level.
By today's (2021) standards, you'd need to dig into critically examining a white woman writing a Black child's POV, white privilege (personified in Sunny's character) and white savior complex in relation to the Freedom Summer movement, as well as the story's structure. And there's a lack of teaching resources to do this that makes it, at this point, an unlikely classroom read.
There's also an article written by the author for School Library Journal in which she mentions the theme of this book and growing up white and privileged and learning to listen to Black characters and their stories and empathize with their struggles.
And finally, I will do something here -- on my blog -- that I won't do in Goodreads.
I'll mention the third book, Anthem, set in 1969, in case you want to check it out and teach it. But I won't review it. I didn't finish it.
It has the same general format as the other two books -- lots of non-fiction source materials scattered throughout. It tackles the Vietnam war and student counter-culture. It's the thickest of the three. It's absolutely huge and overwhelming in the number of images and amount of information it presents to readers.
Nor could I find any teaching materials / lesson plans at sites like TpT.