Cold War on Maplewood Street
Author: Gayle Rosengren
Published August 4, 2015 (Today!) by Putnam
Goodreads Summary: Cold War anxieties play out in a sensitively told story set during the Cuban missile crisis in the 1960s, perfect for fans of Gary Schmidt and Kristin Levine.
Joanna can’t get over how her brother broke his promise to never leave like their dad did. Sam is thousands of miles away on a navy ship, and no matter how often he sends letters, Joanna refuses to write back. When she makes a promise, she keeps it.
But then President Kennedy comes on TV with frightening news about Soviet missiles in Cuba—and that’s where Sam’s heading. Suddenly Joanna’s worries about being home alone, building up the courage to talk to a cute boy, and not being allowed to go to the first boy-girl party in her grade don’t seem so important. Maybe sometimes there are good reasons to break a promise.
The tense timeline of the Cuban missile crisis unfolds alongside a powerful, and ultimately hopeful, story about what it means to grow up in a world full of uncertainty.
Ricki’s Review: Cold War on Maplewood Street highlights a time period that isn’t common in the genre of historical fiction. I was intrigued from the very beginning because I have read few books focused on the Cuban missile crisis. The author excellently balances narrative and history in this engaging, thought-provoking text. Joanna is a strong girl who is ashamed of the way she treated her brother when he left for war. She makes a realistic mistake and tries to work through her emotions regarding her treatment of her brother and also the frightening events of war. There are many concepts for teachers to draw upon in this text—family, friendship, war, and fear, to name a few—and teachers will find this text offers rich opportunities for classroom discussion.
Kellee’s Review: What I think Ms. Rosengren does so well in this book is tell a real story with a piece of history as the backdrop. This is a Cold War/Cuban Missile Crisis story, but that isn’t what the book is all about. This book is about Joanna, her family, and her best friend. Her characters are very real and show the real emotions that must have been running through so many peoples’ veins during this tense time. Because of how well this book is crafted as a narrative within a historical time period, I believe it would be a great introduction to this time period for middle grade readers. Many will have never heard of the Cold War or Cuban Missile Crisis, so learning about it through Joanna’s story is perfect.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might consider using this text to ask students to examine their regrets. Students could begin by closely examine characters that have regrets. Who are they? Do their regrets impact others? Then, the students could consider world leaders or pop culture to consider regrets that famous people might have and how these regrets impacted their lives. Finally, the students might journal to make connections with the text by examining mistakes they have made or regrets they hold in their personal lives.
Another interesting aspect of this book is the theme of communication. Students could compare the lack of communication of some of the characters in the book (which led to a major issue) and the lack of communication which led to the Cuban Missile Crisis. How could communication have helped either of these situations?
Discussion Questions: How would you react if your sibling went to war? Is Joanna’s reaction realistic? Is it fair?; How does war impact the lives of those who stay home? How do the characters of this text react differently from each other? Do you think the war impacted the choices Pamela’s family members make?; What is Mrs. Strenge’s role in the novel? How does she enhance our reading of the story?
Unleashing Readers: What interested you in the Cold War, specifically?
Gayle Rosengren: When I wrote the first draft of Cold War on Maplewood Street–twenty years ago(!)–itwas to share a singular experience from my childhood, the Cuban Missile Crisis. But for several reasons, the manuscript never made it to an editor and I had to set it aside.
Years later I decided to revisit it with a different objective in mind. Now, I wanted to tell a story in which the crisis was the backdrop for a story about how poor communication can destroy relationships. The Cold War itself was an example of a break-down in communication on such a major scale that it very nearly led to destruction on a global level. In my novel, poor communication is demonstrated by main character Joanna’s failure to write to her brother and apologize for the terrible things she said to him when he left for the Navy. It’s also shown in her avoidance of a new tenant in their building, an old woman Joanna finds frightening for several reasons; and it’s demonstrated in her best friend Pamela Waterman’s family, when Mrs. Waterman runs away instead of confronting her husband about how desperate she is to see Paris.
UR: What does your research process look like?
GR: My research began with plumbing my own very vivid memories of the week of the crisis. I was twelve, and I was scared, especially since–although they tried to conceal it–I could see that adults were scared too.
But the major source of the historical details in Cold War on Maplewood Street came from the Chicago Tribune’s archives and actual headlines, photos, and articles that appeared in what was then The Chicago Daily Tribune. Remember, I wrote the first draft of the manuscript over twenty years ago. Pre-computer. And given that newspapers and television newscasts were the primary news sources of the day, I felt it was a solid source for my facts. I have a fat file full of copied newspaper pages that provided everything from the news to the weather and the television schedule. (All 4 channels!)
Today we know more about what was going on during that infamous week (in particular the note that Kennedy sent to Khrushchev agreeing to remove our nuclear weapons from Turkey) but I wanted Joanna to know only what anyone else living in the U.S, and specifically Chicago, would have known at the time.
UR: Did you decide on your time period or your protagonist/narrative first?
GR: This was an instance where the time period was clearly the inspiration for the story, and the protagonist and voice followed. I originally wrote this manuscript in the third person, rewrote it in first person, and then went back to third as I struggled to discover the character and voice that would best serve the story.
UR: Did anyone in your life inspire your characters?
GR: I modeled Joanna’s and Sam’s relationship on my close relationship with my brother Dennis. He was in the Air Force at the time of the missile crisis and based relatively safely in Okinawa, Japan, but I imagined that he was in the Navy, on a ship off the east coast of the U.S., and likely to be swept into action as part of the Cuba quarantine and blockade. I imagined how terrified I would have been for him. And then, to up the stakes, I imagined that when he’d left, Joanna in her hurt and anger accused him of deserting them just like their father had years before. The guilt she would feel knowing she might never get to apologize would be overwhelming.
Joanna’s mother was modeled after my single mother who always worked hard and scrimped to take care of us. Pamela was every good friend I ever had with a normal (which at the time meant two-parent) family.
As for Joanna, she was a lot like me at 12–childish and thoughtless one moment, grown-up and sensitive the next, taking awkward steps toward adulthood and all the while longing for the protective cocoon of childhood that was forever left behind in that unforgettable week. Like Joanna, I too loved horses and dogs and hated being alone in the house at night.
We Flagged: “[S]taying positive and hopeful—even pretending to—was much better than giving in to fear.” (p. 142)
Read This If You Loved: Countdown by Deborah Wiles; Paper Cowboy by Kristin Levine; What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren; Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick; Spy Catchers of Maple Hill by Megan Frazer Blakemore
**Thank you to Penguin for providing copies for review and Ms. Rosengren for the author interview!**