A picture book takes on the creation of the atomic bomb.
“In the beginning,” the story opens, with overtones of Genesis, and it does, indeed, become a story of creation and elemental powers of the universe. The first two pages suggest a Roxaboxen-style celebration of a desert playscape, but then the secret project—the Manhattan Project—unfolds. The local boys’ school is closed, scientists arrive at a place that doesn’t even really exist yet, and shadowy figures get to work creating a “Gadget” of enormous power. Ingeniously, Jeanette Winter’s illustrations balance the dark, cloaked secrecy of Los Alamos, signified by silhouetted figures viewed through windows, with the bright beauty of the outer world—the mesas, cacti, coyotes, prairie dogs, and desert mountains; Hopi artists carving dolls out of wood “as they have done for centuries”; and Georgia O’Keefe painting a gorgeous desert scene. Jonah Winter’s text is eloquent, and his mother’s digital illustrations evoke a beautiful landscape in danger if the scientists’ contraption works. When the bomb explodes, the monstrous mushroom cloud grows over four pages, concluding with a pitch-black double-page spread and no further text, which will leave young readers eager to know more. An informative author’s note will help adults provide the historical context.
An astonishing way to lay the groundwork for such works for older readers as Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb (2012), this is a beautifully told introduction to a difficult subject. (Informational picture book. 5-9)