The Secret Project

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Beach Lane Books Simon and Schuster Feb. 2017
  • Science Curriculum
  • Social Studies Curriculum

“In the beginning, there was just a peaceful desert mountain landscape, a quiet little boys’ school where the boys wore shorts and played outdoor games.
“Then came a letter addressed to the principal. It was from the United States government. The principal was told that his school was needed for important government work. The boys would need to clear out. Soon.
“The boys cleared out. The school shut down. All was quiet.”

“How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy?”
--Sting, “Russians” (1985)

ANDERSON COOPER: “So if you said, Japan, yes, it’s fine, you get nuclear weapons, South Korea, you as well, and Saudi Arabia says we want them, too?”
CANDIDATE DONALD J. TRUMP: “Can I be honest with you? It’s going to happen anyway. It’s going to happen anyway. It’s only a question of time.”

When it comes to The Bomb, we seem to be at a scary juncture in world history.

My generation remembers the “duck and cover” drills from the early 1960s. But the only deployment of nuclear weapons in war took place a decade before I was born. Diminishing numbers of people remember the time when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were vaporized by the United States.

Now there are noises about a new arms race between the U.S. and Russia. North Korea and Iran are testing ballistic missiles. And the President of the US refuses to “take that card off the table” and accepts an expansion in the number of countries that have nuclear weapons.

How did we get here?

For tweens and teens, the definitive book on the dawn of the nuclear age is Steve Sheinkin’s award-winning THE BOMB: THE RACE TO BUILD--AND STEAL--THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS WEAPON.

But for elementary school children, there is a stunning new picture book about the establishment of the Los Alamos Laboratory and the frenzied development, and eventual testing of the nuclear bomb--spoken of only as the “Gadget.”

“Sometimes the shadowy figures emerge from the shadows, pale and tired and hollow-eyed, and go to the nearby town.They must not tell anybody who they are, where they are working, or what they are working on. They smile and say, ‘Good day!’ When they drive back to the laboratory, they must make sure that no one is following them.”

THE SECRET PROJECT features compelling history storytelling by Jonah Winter, accompanied by Jeanette Winter’s wonderfully distinctive illustrations.

Ms. Winters employs a fascinating effect here: Through most of the story, the illustrations occupy a middle band of the spreads with a lot of white above them, and the text over white below them. Then the scientists go below ground to witness the test of the Gadget.

From this point, the illustrations are framed in dark gray-green, helping us see man’s first-ever nuclear explosion from the point of view of those scientists. The book’s ending is powerful and is followed by a two-page Author’s Note.

Let’s all hope that arms races and atomic war remain a scary piece of the past.

40 pages  Ages  6-9  978-1-4814-6913-5

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, Librarian, California USA

See more of his recommendations:

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