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Cuban Book Crisis

Recently for a genius hour, I discussed communism and the Cuban Missile Crisis with all of my seventh graders. Some of their eyes glazed over, but many of them seemed truly engaged with what I was saying. I did my best to weave the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis into something that would keep students on the edge of their seats. I talked about what would happen to us if a nuclear bomb hit our tiny town and I talked about how it was common practice for school children to hide under desks during nuclear bomb drills. My students were awed by the power and magnitude of atomic weapons and they sneered at how ridiculous it seemed to hide under a desk as a form of protection from such a horrible device. Of course, the Cuban Missile Crisis has a very anti-climatic ending and I could tell that my students wanted something more. They were not happy with the “Russia went home and took their nuclear weapons back and we put an embargo on Cuba a little time after that” ending of real life. We even discussed the power of history on the meaning of words, such as “communism.”

cuban missile crisis

Photo Credit: cubanmissilecrisis.weebly.com

Before we started our conversation, most of my students had no idea what communism was or what it stood for. All they knew was that it was bad, and could possibly be used as an insult if they knew the right occasion for it. By the time we ended, there were a lot more confused and questioning faces that I could see. In theory, communism is a lovely idea, in practice it tends to fail and become a dictatorship. Several students came up to me later in the day, asking what books I had on the subject. Of course, at that moment, I didn’t have any. I wasn’t expecting those requests. By Friday, I had at least four.


Countdown by Deborah Wiles


I attended a session by Deborah Wiles at CCIRA about the documentary novel. I was actually attending because of the book Babi Yar by Anatoly Kuznetsov which is billed as a documentary novel and a dense piece of Russian war literature. I loved that book when I read it for my World Lit class, but when I got to Deborah Wiles’s session, I suddenly felt like an ill-prepared student. I hadn’t read Countdown, nor had I read Revolution, the two novels she was going to talk about. By the end of this session, I knew that I had to read Countdown and I needed to do it quickly. Deborah Wiles has constructed a wonderful novel about an eleven-year old girl named Franny. Franny’s father is in the Air Force, her mother is always on her case, her younger brother might as well be recommended for sainthood now he’s so perfect, her older sister is receiving strange letters from a person named Ebenezer and keeping secrets, and she has a crazy Uncle Otts who tries to dig out a bomb shelter in the middle of the front yard. On top of all this, Franny’s best friend suddenly seems to hate her and Franny can’t figure out why. After listening to Kennedy address the nation about Cuba one night for homework, it also seems like the world is about to end. What’s a girl to do? Deborah Wiles also includes these short biographies of important people from the 1960s, such as Harry S. Truman and JFK, and “scrapbooks” that are thrown in intermittently filled with pictures, propaganda, quotes, song lyrics, transcripts, and documents from the actual Cuban Missile Crisis. It was a fantastic read and many of my students were clamoring for this book when we did our book drawing today.

Trinity by Johnathan Fetter-Vorm


I haven’t actually read this graphic novel, but it is the story of how the atomic bomb was created and tested in the United States. Flipping through it, it seems like a fabulous read and the artwork does some interesting things with perspective on how big the explosion is.

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle


This is a graphic novel about Guy’s trip to North Korea. It highlights all of the strange idiosyncrasies of this communist nation as he tries to help design a cartoon for a TV show. I remember walking away from this graphic novel feeling slightly unsettled and uncomfortable by what his stay was like. Many of my students were excited about this new book as well, as they were especially intrigued by the smiling women with accordions on the cover.

Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin


I have not read this book either, although it has been on my kindle for a very long time. When I let students peruse the books on Friday, one student in particular took a keen liking to this book and read more than I had ever seen him read in one focused sitting. He was more than excited to share  what he had read about the book so far with the class today when we did the book drawing for it. It seems to be full of intrigue and espionage and enough action to keep one reader engaged and desperate for more.

you learn something.jpg

While my reading plans for March do not include a lot of reading about the Cuban Missile Crisis, I hope to continue to spark my students interest in books by giving them a taste of many different cultures and ideas. So far, it seems to be working in ways I could never have imagined.


One comment on “Cuban Book Crisis

  1. kelseyempfield
    March 2, 2016

    I have seen Revolution on the shelf at the library for months now, but still haven’t picked it up! Still…not on my tbr shelf. Maybe someday. Bomb, Trinity, and Pyongyang are great graphic novels! However, I feel like my grade sevens haven’t enjoyed them because of the complexity – unfortunately I haven’t exposed them to all the awesome Genius Hour material that you have! I’m inspired.

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