Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 12 to 15
- Grade: 7 to 10
- Reading age: 12 to 15
2018 Red Maple Award — Shortlisted • High Plains Book Award — Shortlisted, Young Adult category
When Christian learns his great-grandfather helped build the A-bombs dropped on Japan, he wants to make amends … somehow.
While attending the funeral of his great-grandfather, ninth-grader Christian Larkin learns that the man he loved and respected was a member of the Manhattan Project, the team that designed and created the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during the Second World War.
On a school trip to Japan, Chris meets eighty-one-year-old Yuko, who was eleven when the first bomb exploded over Hiroshima, horribly injuring her. Christian is determined to do something to make up for what his great-grandfather did. But after all this time, what can one teenager really do? His friends tell him it’s a stupid idea, that there’s nothing he can do. And maybe they’re right.
But maybe, just maybe … they’re wrong.
About the author
David A. Poulsen has been a broadcaster, teacher, professional cowboy, football coach, stage and film actor and—most of all—writer. His writing career began in earnest when his story The Welcomin’ won the 1984 Alberta Culture Short Story Competition. Now the author of 27 books, many for middle readers and young adults, David spends 60 to 80 days a year in classrooms and libraries across Canada (and beyond) as a visiting author/presenter. The UBC Creative Writing alumnus and former Writer in Residence at the Saskatoon Public Library recently made his inaugural foray into the world of adult crime fiction with Serpents Rising, the best-selling first book in the Cullen and Cobb Mystery series. There are now four titles in the series and the fourth—None So Deadly—hit bookstores in the spring of 2019. The Man Called Teacher, coming in 2019, is his first adult western. David lives on a small ranch in Alberta’s foothills where he and his wife Barb raise and train running-bred quarter horses for barrel racing competitions.
- Short-listed, Red Maple Award
- Short-listed, High Plains Book Award, Young Adult category
- Commended, Dewey Divas and the Dudes Fall 2016 Picks
Excerpt: And Then the Sky Exploded (by (author) David A. Poulsen)
It was hot in the church. Hot and sticky. Uncomfortable. And I was wishing I were somewhere else.
I guess I shouldn’t call it a church. It was a funeral home. The building looked sort of like a church from the outside but inside there were no church services — just funerals.
I’d always figured funerals were all about sad — with mourners looking sad, and the minister looking sad, and the people who worked in the funeral home, all in dark suits and serious, sad faces.
And, of course, there’s the deceased. Which is why everyone is sad. Someone has died — the deceased. I had already learned to say “the deceased” than to use any phrase that has the word dead in it. People don’t like that, especially the mourners. At this funeral I was one of the mourners.
It was my first funeral. I’d managed to get all the way to fourteen years old, well, almost fourteen, without having to watch someone I knew be buried. But that all came to an end on October 16, 2015. My great-grandfather had died five days before — October 11 — same day as my sister Carly’s birthday. She was fifteen — one year and twenty-two days older than me.
But since my great-grandpa had died that morning we didn’t do much birthday celebrating, which Carly was totally bummed about. I was okay with the no-celebration part because it meant one less day of the year that I had to pretend to like my sister. The other ones were Christmas and Thanksgiving. Christmas makes sense I guess — you’re supposed to be nice to everybody on Christmas Day.
But I could never figure out Thanksgiving. Mom says it’s the day we’re supposed to be thankful for all of our blessings. And I don’t have a problem with that. It’s just that I don’t consider Carly a blessing. Actually, the best time of the year was the one when my sister’s birthday and Thanksgiving were the same day. Cut one exactly one third of the “be-nice-to-Sis” days.
That was back when we lived in Canada, where Thanksgiving is a lot earlier than here in America.
I was hoping that this year we’d just blow off Carly’s birthday altogether, but no luck. I mean even Carly could sort of understand that it wasn’t really appropriate to have a party with cake and candles and girls taking selfies on the day Great-Grandpa Will died. But Mom promised Carly that we’d celebrate her birthday a couple of weeks later.
We called him GG Will which is a lot simpler than Great-Grandpa Will, especially if you had to say it a whole bunch of times in a row.
William Deaver — that was his real name. He was my mom’s grandpa. He had been a scientist and a professor and was the smartest person I’d ever met. He was also the coolest ninety-six-year-old guy in the world. How many guys on their ninety-third birthday are out there playing street hockey with their great-grandkids? Of course, he mostly played goal and we all maybe took it a little easy when we were shooting at his net. But he was out there laughing and having fun and even yelling at everybody on his team. He made a couple of pretty good saves too.
I was remembering that day playing street hockey and some other stuff about GG Will while I was sitting there in the funeral place. Since I didn’t have any actual experience with funerals, I didn’t really know how to act. Lots of people around me were crying. I didn’t cry. Not because I wasn’t sad, I was. Like I said, I really liked GG Will and I knew I was going to miss his jokes and his grilled-cheese sandwiches, which were unbelievable. He cooked them in tinfoil with an iron. Seriously.
And he could explain stuff that was totally complicated, but when he was done explaining, you understood it. I guess that was connected to how smart he was. Although I’ve known some pretty smart people who explain something and they finish and look at you like you get it now, right? And the whole thing is still a mystery. So I’ll miss that about my GG Will. And his goaltending, I’d miss that, too.
Mostly I tried not to move around a lot. I figured fidgeting and turning around to look at the people behind me would have my sister tapping my mom on the arm and pointing at me: Look at Christian, Mom. Can you make him stop acting like a child? Or something like that. And then Mom would tell Dad and there’d be the lecture when we got home and I hated the lecture almost as much as I hated zucchini.
So I tried to look around without moving anything other than my head and eyes. I was sitting next to the window but when I tried to look out, the light was hitting the glass kind of funny and mostly what I saw was me … looking back at me.
Looking at myself is not one of my favourite pastimes. I know kids are supposed to be all about themselves and I guess I’m like that sometimes, but I just don’t like looking at myself. In the morning, I try to get the face-washing, the teeth-brushing, and the hair-combing done with as little time as possible spent looking into the mirror.
But there I was in the reflection in the window of the funeral home. All five-foot-seven (170 cm) one hundred and twenty-two pounds of me, the same brown hair and brown eyes that had been me for thirteen years and eleven-plus months. So how would I describe my looks? Well, the word handsome wouldn’t be part of the description but I don’t think ugly would either. Somewhere in between, I guess.
It wasn’t a friendly face looking back at me from that window glass. I looked like I did most of the time — sort of pissed off at the world. Which I wasn’t, not really, but some kids have happier looks on their faces, not that they’re grinning or even smiling all the time, they just look like they’re okay with the way life is going.
That’s not Christian Larkin. Even though my life is fine (if you don’t count Carly), my brain doesn’t seem to be able to convince my face of that. I try. Seriously, some mornings I tell myself okay, today I’m all about happy and I walk around smiling the whole time, but at the end of the day I feel like an idiot and my cheek muscles hurt. So I don’t do that every often. It’s easier to just be the guy the window glass said I was.
GG Will was inside a casket that was sitting right at the front of the centre aisle of the funeral home. We were in the right-hand rows, also at the front. Which meant we were right next to the casket. That’s where the family sits at most funerals, which is one of the things I learned that day.
There were a couple of songs — hymns I guess — and the minister talked about Jesus, the shepherd, and how every sheep in the flock mattered to the shepherd. There was more but I didn’t get all of it.
Up to then I hadn’t been paying much attention to what was going on. I’d been watching this banner flutter high up on the wall at the front of the building, right over where the minister was standing. The banner had symbols on it and I’d been trying to figure out what the symbols meant and also why the banner was fluttering. I mean it’s not like there was a wind inside the funeral home.
I’d also been thinking about the smell, which was sort of strange, too. Actually a few smells together. Kind of a smell mix. There was the smell of coffee, which made sense since we’d all been in this waiting room until it was time to go into the main part of the building where the funeral was and there had been coffee in that room. And there was the smell of soap and hair stuff and new clothes — like everybody had tried to be really clean and smelling okay — I figured that made sense, too. What didn’t make sense was the other smell. It was popcorn. Who brings popcorn to a funeral? The answer is nobody so where did the smell come from? It’s not like there was a theatre next door. Actually there was a paint store on one side and a parking lot on the other. Neither of those is famous for popcorn.
So that was it — coffee and soap and popcorn. And there were a couple of other smells I didn’t recognize right off.
Yuko’s story and her meeting with Christian are worth reading and can start the conversation with young readers about Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
A powerful story about forgiveness, healing and coming to terms with the sins of the past.
Canadian Children's Book News
? This memorable addition to Hiroshima literature should resonate with readers.
Booklist (starred review)
A compelling story with strong characters whom the reader will find believable as well as likeable.
A great novel to begin the dialogue about nuclear disarmament, the realities of warfare, and the role of the individual in the global village.
Poulsen’s latest is a great read.
Quill & Quire
Other titles by David A. Poulsen
The Unlikely Hero
The Story of Wolf 8 (A Young Readers' Edition)
The Man Called Teacher
Cullen and Cobb Mysteries 4-Book Bundle
None So Deadly / Last Song Sung / Dead Air / Serpents Rising
None So Deadly
A Cullen and Cobb Mystery
Last Song Sung
A Cullen and Cobb Mystery
Cullen and Cobb Mysteries 2-Book Bundle
Serpents Rising / Dead Air
A Cullen and Cobb Mystery
David A. Poulsen's Young Adult Fiction 3-Book Bundle
And Then the Sky Exploded / Numbers / Old Man
A Cullen and Cobb Mystery