I chose to read Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin. This book won the 2013 Newbery Medal Honor and the 2013 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award. All I can say is, wow. It is packed full of information, people, physics, spies, reports, photos, and more. This is one that I would recommend for grades 5 and up as a great book to have in the classroom and one that you could teach part or all of to students. This book takes a narrative approach to telling about the arms race – who can create the atomic bomb first. It is a great resource that begins with one of the KGB (Communist) spies being caught. Then it leads into the story from the beginning. How the German physicists discovered that Uranium can create fission – basically separating itself into two new pieces and then doing it again and again. With that discover, not a simple one, but a very small step of a 7-year race to create a weapon that could wipe out a city with one bomb. The story goes through all of the main players, how they were chosen, how they interacted, and how secret this mission was. America was working with Britain to create the atomic bomb and we were trying to do it before the Nazi’s. There was sabotage of Nazi factories and plans to sneak out German physicists. We were never sure of how far along the German’s were until the war was done. Turns out, they were about 2 years behind our own research and discoveries. The big part of the book deals with the KGB spies, recruiting Americans to steal the plans, and how Robert Oppenheimer was the main mastermind behind all of America’s progress. No one in America really knew what was going on until we bombed Hiroshima. That’s an amazing secret to keep – even some of the workers on the project didn’t even know what they were really working on. This is definitely one that would first, appeal to boys (I mean, most of them love war, spies, and blowing things up), it would also appeal to historians and scientists (which I hope we are creating). Amazing book.
I found myself using a lot of the reading strategies that I teach my students – looking back (quite often), rereading, asking questions, double-checking, looking at the pictures, and visualizing. This is a book that would create a good challenge for most readers – at any level. Here are the Reading Standards that I would use with this book:
Reading Informational Text 5.2: Determine two or more main ideas of a text and explain how they are supported by key details. There are many main ideas throughout the story – you could easily do main ideas for sections of the book, the different sides in the war, the people involved.
Reading Informational Text 5.3: Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text. You could explain the relationships of Dr. Oppenheimer to the General Leslie Groves; the KGB with Americans; the reactions to the bombs being used; the different physicists working on the project; the overall concepts with the bombs use and the Cold War arms race with the Soviet Union after WWII ended.
Reading Informational Text 5.8: Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text, identifying which reasons and evidence support which point(s). You could explain how the author supported people’s feelings about the bombs being used, or the differing sides of the race to build the atomic bomb.
I would also use this book with my History standards:
Historical Thinking and Skills 5.1: Multiple-tier timelines can be used to show relationships among events and places. This book easily lends itself to this standard. You could make a timeline for each countries race to complete the project, who was brought into the project when, the advancement of the project, events in the war.
Geography Human Systems 5.9: Political, environmental, social and economic factors cause people, products and ideas to move from place to place in the Western Hemisphere today. This standard could be addressed by discussing the different political systems and the passing of people, products, and information through the process of creating the atomic bomb.
This book can also address the entire Economic Strand as follows:
5.13: Information displayed in circle graphs can be used to show relative proportions of segments of data to an entire body of data.
5.14: The choices people make have both present and future consequences.
5.15: The availability of productive resources (i.e., human resources, capital goods and natural resources)promotes specialization that leads to trade.
5.16: The availability of productive resources and the division of labor impact productive capacity.
5.17: Regions and countries become interdependent when they specialize in what they produce best and then trade with other regions to increase the amount and variety of goods and services available.
5.18: Workers can improve their ability to earn income by gaining new knowledge, skills and experiences.
All of those are discussed and have ample evidence to support and explain the above standards.
Overall, I think I will be adding this book to my collection and using it when I teach the World Wars and the Holocaust. It doesn’t have much to do with the Holocaust but that is the quarter (4th) that we discuss economics and governments. I think it’s a perfect fit and I think the kids would enjoy it. It would definitely create a lot of discussion and debates and get their minds thinking. That’s going to be the best part.