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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Literary Circles

Grade Level:


Students critically analyze one out of three books in literary circles. Submitted by Dusti Griffin.



Students will have the choice of reading one of the following books in a literacy circle. Give a brief pitch on each book before students sign up for the book that they will read.

Additional teacher resources for the books:


Have someone knock on the classroom door and give you a letter. Read the letter aloud to class (letter stating that the U.S. Government will be taking over the school for an important project – use the letter to The Ranch School as model). Inform students that this is what actually happened during World War II to students at The Ranch School. Then have students brainstorm how other people, particularly students their age, may have had their lives disrupted by the war. Inform students that they will be given a choice of novels to read that deal with how students their own ages had their lives disrupted by the war due to a special project their parents were working on.




Day 1: General Introduction

  • Remind students to generate questions and make predictions and then check their predictions while reading.
  • Make a chart of the characters identifying their traits and actions that support that conclusion.
  • In each literacy circle, students must answer the following questions from the book that they are reading.
    1. Why did the main characters go to live in Los Alamos?
    2. When the character got off the train, where did the character go first?
    3. Did his or her parents meet the character at the train or was someone else sent? If the character arrived with his or her parents, who met them at the gate?
    4. What were the nationalities of the main characters?
  • Imagine how the character feels when they arrive at Los Alamos and find it so different than where they are from. Discuss as a group. Make connections to a time in your own life that you felt this way or make connections to another text or character who may have felt the same way.
  • Write a poem or diary entry as the character about how they feel when they arrive at Los Alamos. Draw a picture to illustrate your writing.


Day 2: Daily Life

  • Students answer more questions within their literacy circles. Sample questions include:
    1. How was the daily life of the character the same as it was before arriving at Los Alamos?
    2. How was the daily life of the character different after arriving at Los Alamos?
    3. Did the character change from the beginning of the story to the end? How?
    4. What do you think contributed to the changes?
    5. What were the jobs of the main characters’ parents?
    6. How did the parents feel about the jobs they were doing at Los Alamos? Cite text that supports your conclusions. Did their feelings change throughout the book?
    7. Did the parents of the main characters in your book discuss their work their children or did they keep it a secret as they were instructed to do?
    8. Did any of the other parents discuss their work with their children? IF so, why do you think those parents shared with their children and others did not.
    9. Do you think your own parents would discuss this with you or would they keep it secret?
  • After their brainstorming session, students write an essay to the following prompt:
    1. Imagine that you are the character and are now leaving Los Alamos at the end of the war. Write a diary entry or a letter to another character in the book about your feelings.
    2. Imagine that you are a scientist working on the secret project in Los Alamos. Create a T-chart with reasons you would share the secret with your child and why you wouldn’t.
    3. Reveal whether or not you would share the secret with your child. Role play as Los Alamos parents and debate whether you should or should not share the secret with your children. Justify your reasons.


Day 3: Secrecy and War

  • Students answer more questions within their literacy circles. Sample questions include:
    1. Why was secrecy so important? Could such a big secret, including an entire city, be kept today? Identify reasons why you think so or don’t think so.
    2. Did the main character of your book witness the test explosion on the morning of July 16th?
    3. Why do you think that some of the parents woke their children to see it and others did not?
    4. Within your literacy group, come up with a secret word. Report it only to the teacher. Try to prevent other literacy groups from finding out your secret. Keep track of which group is able to keep the word secret longest. See if the word can be kept secret until the end of the school year.
    5. Are Oppenheimer, Fermi, Groves, and Feynmann mentioned in your book? How are they portrayed? Do you think this is an accurate portrayal?
    6. Are Native Americans and Spanish landholders mentioned in your book? What are their roles at Los Alamos? Do the characterizations seem realistic or stereotypical?
    7. How are women portrayed in the book? What were the roles of women at Los Alamos?
    8. How did the war touch the characters’ lives beyond living at Los Alamos? Did the author create realistic ways in which the war impacted their lives? Cite examples. Do you think the main characters have it “easier” during the war at Los Alamos than children who did not live in the secret town? Explain your view.
  • Discuss rationing and why it was necessary during World War II.
  • After their brainstorming session, students complete one of the following projects:
    1. Imagine that you are one of the children of a worker at Los Alamos in 1945. Would you have wanted to see the first atomic explosion or not? Would you have wanted to touch a piece of trinitite? Write a paragraph expressing your view. Remember to justify your viewpoint.
    2. Imagine that you are a reporter and have been granted an interview with one of the main characters. Generate a list of questions you would ask the character. Write his or her responses. Then turn into a one page article that will run in TIME Magazine in 1945 as part of a longer piece titled The Children of the Secret City.
    3. Interview a family member or community member who was alive during World War II. Ask for permission to video or tape the interview. Generate questions in advance. Remember to ask questions about their experiences during the war – rationing, daily lives, etc., if they were not a soldier. Ask if they remember how they felt when they heard an atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan. If having trouble finding someone alive during the war, please see the teacher who will have a generated a list of possible people to interview.


Day 4: Powerpoint Presentations

  • After finishing the book, each literacy group will create a synopsis of the book in Powerpoint to present to the class. Literacy groups have the option of presenting in another computer –generated format if approved by teacher in advance.
  • Identify the main characters, problems, and resolution.
    1. Identify and discuss three themes from the book.
    2. Identify how the main characters and their parents felt about “the gadget” after it was tested and used.
    3. Identify the areas of historical accuracy upon which you chose to do additional research. Present whether or not the author portrayed it accurately. Cite your research sources.
    4. Evaluate the story on historical accuracy. Then evaluate it on its literary merits. Were the characters interesting? Was the plot credible? Was it a “page-turner?” Or were the characters and events contrived?
    5. Did reading this book help your understand what The Manhattan Project was and its historical importance?
    6. Choose one scene from the book to present as Readers’ Theater to the class. Scene may be accompanied by music that group thinks conveys the mood of the scene.


Extra Credit: Analyzing Historical Accuracy

  1. Examine the book for any historical notes, timelines, reference sources that the author made and awards the book received. Does this make the work of fiction more credible?
  2. How did New Mexico geography and population distribution contribute to the choice of Los Alamos as the secret city?
  3. Choose 4 areas that reference events or real people during the war and project. Do additional research to determine whether these were accurately portrayed in the book. If they were not accurate, discuss whether that adds or detracts from the value of the book as “historical fiction.” Be prepared to justify your opinion as an individual in a classroom debate.


Concluding Activity

  • After all literacy groups have presented their PowerPoint and Readers Theater, guide class in discussion about the books: compare and contrast the books on themes, characterizations, events, and historical accuracy.