• Happy birthday, David Macaulay (Black and White).
  • It’s the birth date of circus owner Charles Ringling (1863–1926). Read Ringlingville USA: the Stupendous Story of Seven Brothers and Their Stunning Circus Success by Jerry Apps and Tents, Tigers, and the Ringling Brothers also by Jerry Apps.
  • In 1867, Charles Dickens gives first his first U.S. public reading at Tremont Temple in Boston. Read A Christmas Carol.

On December 2, 1942, the Manhattan Project initiated the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Less than three years later, a group of scientists stood near Alamogordo, New Mexico, to watch the first nuclear explosion. One of them, J. Robert Oppenheimer would later say, “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed; a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita…Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

The work of the Manhattan Project and the explosion of the first atomic bomb does not seem the most likely subject for a children’s book. But in one of the most original and compelling works of historical fiction published in the last ten years, Ellen Klages uses this material in The Green Glass Sea. Focusing on the young people who lived in Los Alamos, the book explores the events as an entire community works on the Manhattan Project. Ten-year-old Dewey Kerrigan knows only that her father is engaged in war work—very confidential war work. But she loves the Los Alamos compound; a budding inventor, she discovers that the dump contains valuable but discarded scientific material. Unfortunately, when her father travels to Washington, D.C., Dewey is forced to move in with another girl, Suze, one of her most notorious tormentors at the compound. Slowly these two build a friendship in this unusual setting—so isolated and cut off from the rest of the world. In this novel Klages explores historical events in a way they can be comprehended by an eleven- to fourteen-year-old child.

All good historical fiction is marked by a sense of story, a sense of history, and a sense of place. This novel has all three—but Klages is particularly brilliant at re-creating the Los Alamos complex. Readers get to know the streets and the residences; you actually feel like you are walking around Los Alamos in 1945, something difficult for any writer to achieve. One young reader recently noted that she read “the book when I was thirteen, I’m fourteen now and I’m still in love with The Green Glass Sea! Great story.” And it is a great story, and an important story, one that takes young people up to the moment in time when the world will never be quite the same again.

Here’s a passage from The Green Glass Sea:

“C’mon. You’ve never read a comic book?” Suze asked again. That was unbelievable. How could anybody, even Dewey, grow up in America and never read a comic book? It was just the sort of thing that spies got trapped by. Who is Clark Kent? And a Nazi wouldn’t know, would he?

“Classics Illustrated. Treasure Island. Once,” Dewey said sadly. “Then my Nana took it away. She said they’d rot my brain and give me nightmares.” She looked wistfully at the pile at Suze’s side.


Originally posted December 2, 2010. Updated for .

Tags: Cold War, History
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Green Glass Sea


  1. Daphne says:

    A great story! Klages creates a setting, a place, with such specificity, such gorgeous detail and power. Those details of the everyday lives of the children on the brink of the nuclear age make this story unforgettable.
    Thank you for this Almanac. I read it every day with my coffee mug in hand. Truly a labor of love.

  2. Anita says:

    Daphne: Thanks for your comments. A labor of love, certainly, but books like The Green Glass Sea make it worthwhile. I want the universe to know about this gem.

  3. Ellen Klages says:

    I don’t know about the rest of the universe, but you sure made my day!

  4. Judy Enderle says:

    I loved this book, too. The daily life details and the secrecy involved were so interesting. Also gave it to my dad to read; he worked in the nuclear power field.

  5. Carolyn says:

    I was pleased to see this book featured today. It put a smile on my face as I remembered how much I enjoyed this novel. I’ve recently bookmarked this site and have enjoyed catching up on past features. I love the variety and enjoy seeing books I adore and new ones to challenge my tendencies to read in a rut.

  6. Beth says:

    I loved this book! I recommend the sequel as well for anyone who wants more of Dewey and Suze.

  7. CLM says:

    A fabulous and lyrically written book, although I needed a box of Kleenex beside me as I read. I got it from the library initially but knew after one chapter I would want to own it. However, I wonder who the audience is. I would have liked it as a child but so far have not been able to coax my nieces to read it. They don’t like historical fiction as much as I do (and did at that age) and the characters are younger than they are in the first book. I will try again over the holidays, I think.

  8. Rusty True Browder says:

    I read CLM’s comment with interest. The Green Glass Sea is a beautiful book, as conveyed so well by Anita, and to my mind comes across as much like realistic fiction as historical fiction. While a young reader may (we hope) want to more about the era and the mystery surrounding the development of the bomb, the family-and-friendship story is also strong and compelling. Maybe you could introduce it to your nieces with the realistic fiction slant in mind.

  9. Suzanne says:

    I just finished Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. Best written, most compelling non-fiction I’ve read in a very long time (since Claudette Colvin). It makes a great pairing with Green Glass Sea.

  10. Anita says:

    Suzanne: I agree about Bomb and reviewed it on September 17. It would work very well with Green Glass Sea.

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