Children's Literature Bookshelf

“The Secret Project,” by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Jeanette Winter. Beach Lane Books, New York, 2017, 32 pages, Grades 2-4.

“The Secret Project,” by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Jeanette Winter.
Beach Lane Books, New York, 2017, 32 pages, Grades 2-4.

In the last several months, there has been an alarming amount of talk about nuclear weapons held by North Korea. While many nations including the United States possess nuclear weapons, the possession of nuclear weapons by the country of North Korea poises crucial problems. North Korea appears to be using their nuclear weapons to extract concessions from western countries.

The North Korean leadership frequently acts with recklessness which is quite dangerous to world peace. How did nuclear power get to this point? When did nations start seeking to split the atom to create an atomic explosion? What went into this massive effort to create an atomic bomb? What grave results of this effort are still with us today? Jonah Winter has written a straightforward account of the creation of the first atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico.  His wife, Jeanette Winter has drawn some sharply contrasting pictures of the natural New Mexico landscape and the horrifying effects of the atomic bomb. The name of this award-winning book is “The Secret Project.”

The principal of a small boys’ school some 50 miles from Santa Fe, New Mexico receives a letter from the United States Government. In the letter, he is informed that the government is taking over the school and grounds. This quickly takes place and soon a massive project begins at the site. It is known in history as the Manhattan Project because the first offices were located in New York. Since there is a justifiable fear that Nazi Germany is also building an atomic bomb, the Manhattan Project gets massive funding from the American government. The most brilliant scientists in the world gather in the newly constructed laboratories in Los Alamos and work nonstop for nearly two years. Thousands of workers in other facilities in the United States also contribute to the development of the atomic bomb.

Finally, after years of toil and several billion dollars of investment, the scientists finish the bomb. In the final drawings of the book, the scientists naively hunker down in a bunker awaiting the explosion. They don’t even know what is going to happen. The author then starts a countdown near the end of the book. What happens next?

Why aren’t there any words at the conclusion of the book? What do the final pictures convey to readers? Why do people always see a vast, burning mushroom cloud after a nuclear explosion? Compared to today’s nuclear weapons the Los Alamos bomb is not very powerful. Yet that bomb left a 100-mile radius that will be radioactive for 24,000 years. What other issues have developed because of the atomic bomb? What do you think about this crucial matter? To find out the answers to these and other questions, go to the library and check out “The Secret Project” by Jonah Winter.

The Winters have written and drawn a powerful book about the development of the atomic bomb during the Manhattan Project. It is good to keep in mind the terrifying possibilities of nuclear weapons and to try to limit their spread. Great care and diplomacy will be needed in negotiating with the volatile leaders of countries like North Korea. But as the final dramatic pictures of this book demonstrate, the failure to contain nuclear weapons can only result in a catastrophe. As the old Protestant hymn states, the world is “standing in the need of prayer.”

Terrence Nollen

 

 

 

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