The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages – Review by Shannon Houghton

green sea glass 1

When I was growing up as a reader, I thought there were four distinct eras that historical fiction existed in:

I wonder if I’m the only person who got stuck in that line of thinking, or if that’s part of the reason so many people have historical fiction as their book gap challenge?

I love bits of history that haven’t been explored as often in kidlit. Al Capone Does my Shirts blew my mind, with its story of a family living Alcatraz Island in the 1930s, and that’s the book that came to mind when I heard about The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages.

The Green Glass Sea takes place during World War II, and it follows bookish tinkering badass Dewey Kerrigan as she heads west to live with her dad in Los Alamos. He’s working on the Manhattan project, as is everyone else living in Los Alamos (which doesn’t officially exist).

Real life scientific characters make cameos, including my personal favorite, Richard Feynman. Dewey deals with coming-of-age issues and fitting in as a girl in a world that hasn’t quite figured out young ladies can be amazing engineers. But the history itself is fascinating, and with the huge attention being given to this year’s multi-medalist Bomb, the time is right to read or reread The Green Glass Sea.

Additional resources for your consideration:

Anita Silvey, in her infinite wisdom, featured The Green Glass Sea here.

SPOILER ALERT: The last chapter of The Green Glass Sea was originally published in the September 2004 issue of Strange Horizons.

Further SPOILER ALERT: Watch Ellen Klages read from the end of The Green Glass Sea here:

Some related books of interest:


Al Capone Does My Shirts, Gennifer Choldenko.

Similar premise, in that you have families living in an isolated government-y area.

Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, Steve Sheinkin.

Obvious reasons.

Feynman, Jim Ottaviani.

Feynman was just a young punk guy working on the Manhattan project before he went on to do scads of amazing things. Like. INCREDIBLE things. Probably one of the most incredible figures in modern science.

Dignifying Science, Jim Ottaviani.

Graphic novel biography of neat women in science, by the same author as Feynman.

White Sands, Red Menace, Ellen Klages.

A few years after The Green Glass Sea was published, Klages released this sequel, which is a great book, but isn’t quite as amazing in a historical-fictiony-sense, if you know what I mean. Takes place right after WWII ends and the atomic age uneasily begins.

Countdown, Deborah Wiles.

Takes place later than The Green Glass Sea, but has a similar feel and the same type of rad female lead character. My pick for the 2012 Newbery Medal. Part one in The Sixties Trilogy, which frankly needs to have book two published RIGHT NOW. Extra resources for Countdown are here.

The Loud Silence of Francine Green, Karen Cushman.

Also takes place slightly later than The Green Glass Sea; has many of the same themes as White Sands, Red Menace and Countdown.

Shannon Houghton is a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher living in Seattle. She loves learning about the history of science, and her current obsessions include Buckminster Fuller, Jacques Cousteau’s SEALAB, and computer programming pioneer Grace Hopper.