Fast-paced and thought-provoking, though lacking the emotional resonance of his earlier work, Zindel gives young readers a taste of what life would have been like for a child living in a top secret American military base in the closing months of WWII. Twelve-year-old Stephen is curious—so curious in fact that he can’t help but try to discover the nature of the special hush-hush project his physicist father is deeply preoccupied with at Los Alamos’s technical lab. Readers will know immediately what Stephen does not, that his emotionally distant father is working on the development of the atomic bomb. With the help of an older boy, whose Russian father works for the military as a trainer of guard dogs, Stephen begins to investigate his father’s secret mission. Zindel captures the paranoid us versus them mood of the period, and his authoritative descriptions are vivid and feel authentic. The novel also convincingly encapsulates the moral and emotional ambivalence of the men working on the project. In the book’s most disturbing moment, Stephen’s father tells him that he never considered “how it [the bomb] might be used,” or how he and his fellow scientists would feel “when it was taken out of” their “hands.” The rather perfunctory climax manages to generate some suspense, but is too heavily foreshadowed to surprise. While this is not Zindel’s best writing, by cleverly intertwining fiction and fact, his distinctly atmospheric tale breathes life into an exceptional moment in American history. (chronology, important people, sources) (Fiction. 11 -13)

Pub Date: March 31, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-027812-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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The author and illustrator bring to life an incident right out of history in this droll picture book enhanced by lively, color- washed pen-and-ink drawings. In Cheshire, Massachusetts, the home of mouth-watering cheese, the local residents grumble that President Jefferson is serving cheese from Norton, Connecticut, at the White House. “I have an idea,” says Elder John Leland to the assembled town folk, “If each of you will give one day’s milking from each of your many cows, we can put our curds together and create a whopping big cheddar.” Although some people scoff, the farmers bring load after load of milk—from 934 cows—to town and they set about making an enormous cheese. There are problems along the way, but eventually the giant cheese is dragged to a barn to age. At last it is perfect, and Mr. Leland and friends start the long haul to the East Room of White House. In a foreword, the author explains the truth and fiction in the tale, e.g., that the presidential residence wasn’t called the White House until about 1809. A humorous tale with a wide range of appeal and uses in and out of the classroom. (Picture book. 8-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-7894-2573-4

Page Count: 30

Publisher: DK Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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From Dodds (The Shape of Things, 1994, not reviewed, etc.), a rhyming, reckless text that makes a math process pleasurably solvable; Mitchell’s illustrative debut features a smashing cast of 1930s characters and a playfulness that will keep readers guessing. The premise is a Great Race: at the sound of the gun, 80 bicycle racers take off at top speed. The path diverges at the top of a cliff, and half the racers hurtle forever downward and right out of the race and the book. The remaining 40 racers determinedly continue in boats, their curls, spyglasses, eye patches, matronly upswept hairdos, and Clara Bow—lips intact. Whirlpools erupt to divide them again and wreck their ships, so it’s time to grab the next horse and ride on. The race continues, despite abrupt changes in modes of transportation and in the number of racers that dwindle by disastrous divisions, until a single winner glides over the finish line in a single-prop plane. The pace is so breathless and engaging that the book’s didactic origins all but disappear; few readers will notice that they’ve just finished a math problem, and most will want to go over all the action again. (Picture book. 5-10)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-7636-0442-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1999

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