cover image The Secret Project

The Secret Project

Jonah Winter, illus. by Jeanette Winter. Beach Lane, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4814-6913-5

Secrets seldom come grimmer than in this unsettling tale, which describes the Los Alamos nuclear lab and the creation of the atomic bomb. The mother-son team behind Diego and other picture book biographies pairs an informational tone with simmering ambiguity. Their story opens on “a peaceful desert mountain landscape,” where a coyote howls, an artist (Georgia O’Keeffe) paints, and a Hopi man carves a kachina doll. After the government commandeers a private school, “the most brilliant scientists in the world” arrive to take up nighttime research, their twilit activities contrasting with sunny New Mexico settings in ochre, pink, violet, and sage. Jonah Winter repeatedly refers to “shadowy figures” at work on a mysterious “Gadget,” and Jeanette Winter pictures them as anonymous, steel-gray silhouettes. When the men gather in a bunker to test the Gadget, the narration disappears. In a chilling wordless sequence with a drab, light-sucking background, a white-gold and blood-red mushroom cloud blossoms, followed by an empty spread in glossy black. An author’s note explains what happened next. Sure to spark conversation about ethics and the use of nuclear weaponry, this powerful book demands a wide readership. Ages 5–8. (Feb.)