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Sunday, September 17, 2017

THE SECRET PROJECT, by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Jeanette Winter. Beach Lane Books, Simon and Schuster. 2017. $23.99 ages 6 and up

"Outside the laboratory, nobody knows they are there. Outside, there are just peaceful desert mountains and mesas, cacti, coyotes, prairie dogs. Outside the laboratory, in the faraway nearby, artists are painting beautiful paintings. Outside the laboratory, in the faraway nearby, Hopi Indians are carving beautiful dolls out of wood as they have done for centuries."

With all the rhetoric being reported between the United States and North Korea in the past month, I think this book is highly appropriate for sharing in homes and classrooms. Look for it at your library or in your favorite bookstore. It is sure to inspire conversation and connections to current world affairs.

Jonah Winter does a first-rate job of introducing readers to the development of the first nuclear bomb. It will cause readers to think and ask questions about the scientists who worked under mysterious circumstances to build that bomb.

"Night and day, the greatest scientists in the world
conduct experiments and research in the laboratory.
They are working on something they call the "Gadget."
What they are trying to invent is so secret,
they cannot even call it by its real name."

Jonah manages to capture the intensity of the work alongside the majesty of the desert environment. The color of the outside world shifts to the darkness and obscurity where those scientists work secretly, without rest. Readers are witness to the work, and the events that lead to the countdown to detonation.

"Crouching down in their bunker,
the scientists prepare themselves
for something so loud,
so earth-shattering,
so huge,
it is hardly even imaginable."

Jeanette Winter's artwork is exemplary, using black (and darkness) to great effect in creating a mood that is memorable and frightening. The utter blackness of the final spread, following the spectacular images of the bomb's power reflects the silence it inspires.

 It is an 'awesome' introduction to a very scary time in history, though none of that is mentioned until a very informative and frightening Author's Note. In it he includes this " ... as of 2016, there are 15,700 nuclear weapons still in existence throughout the world. Hopefully some day that number will be zero.” Or, perhaps that number is on the rise. The facts are in the text of the book. Mr. Winter's own comments are in the note he places in back matter. It is not written with a message for readers.

Jonah Winter believes:

"As a nonfiction author, my job is to tell the truth.   And my mission as an author is to introduce young children to chapters of history which have been systematically omitted from their education. For instance, the making of the atom bomb – the topic of my book, The Secret Project. It’s a picture book about how scientists and the American government created the first nuclear bomb.   Their collective motivation as a character, as they were creating their “gadget” (as they euphemistically referred to it), was to conceal. My motivation as a character, in this book and various books I’ve written for children, is to reveal."

He and his mother, a brilliant and gifted artist, ensure that all readers will know this part of history.

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