Friday, March 25, 2011

Review of Atomic Number 92

by Lupe Fernandez

A snow avalanche threatens to bury two intrepid boys and an old miner. Will they ever find The Lost Uranium Mine? This adventure chapter book was published in 1964 by Benefic Press, written by Henry Bamman and Robert Whitehead, and illustrated by Berthold Tiedemann. 

At a child, I would check this book out from the Hayward Public Library in my hometown of Hayward, CA. It has everything a house-bound boy would love. A lost treasure. A ghost town. Hiking gear and a Geiger counter. I wanted a Geiger counter so bad. If I had a one, I would wander around his house and listen to the clicking of decaying atoms. 
Our hardy young heroes, Mark and Rich follow old miner friend, Patrick brave a snowstorm in search of the ghost town of Great Bear, deep in the Rocky Mountains.

Since I grew up on the snow-less shores of the San Francisco Bay Area, I was fascinated by their trek through a blizzard, plunging knee deep in drifts, wind shrieking. Page after page, the illustrations put me on the mountain with the boys. When the three explorers find refuge in a cave, old Patrick tells the boys a tragic tale of greed and death in the discovery of the Lost Uranium Mine. 
The motivation for finding uranium, says Old Patrick, “…our country has been looking for uranium for a long time…the money you get for finding the ore is very good.” And the hunt is on. But the Ghost of Great Bear menaces their every step. When the party finds the abandoned town of Great Bear, they settle in for the night in one of the abandoned buildings. They talk about finding the black ore which is processed to extract uranium. Rich says, “Uranium and money, just what I want.” 

After escaping a cave-in, a wild bear and crawling around in tunnels, the uranium hunters find the black ore. The Geiger counters click away. Rich says, “That’s money talking!” 

Their last encounter with the mysterious Ghost of Great Bear yields, after a fist fight in the dark, a claim jumper posing as the ghost to scare away Rich, Mark and old Patrick. 

A page count in parenthesis ended every chapter. Chapter one is 918 words. Total word count: 7,676. The book includes a vocabulary count page. Total words: 282 Uranium is used 7 times. Kill is used 17 times.

The next page has a map and an article about the method of finding and claiming a uranium mine. Cool. I would draw my own maps with trail keys to places unknown where monsters dwell. 

Some Facts About Uranium
  • Atomic Number 92
  • Name derived from the planet Uranus
  • Atomic Weight: 238.03
  • Periodic Table Symbol: U
  • Popular Isotopes: Uranium 235 and Uranium 238
  • Isotope 235 is used atomic bombs
  • Isotope 238 is used to make plutonium.
  • Uranium Oxide (UO2) is used in nuclear reactors.
  • Extracted from open and underground mines. 
  • Milling ore results in radioactive tailings. 

In the 21st century, I know a lot more about uranium than I did as a child. If The Lost Uranium Mine were written in the 50’s - when we really loved the atom - I wonder if such a book would‘ve included a radioactive sample for educational purposes? 

I tracked down a copy of this elemental tale of adventure before my memory decays and the story of The Lost Uranium Mine is gone forever.


  1. I love old books. Even better is finding one you loved as a child. So funny that it had the word count at the end of every chapter. That would actually be useful to me now since I have typed in chapters from my favorite books in an effort to study how it's done, typical word count, etc.

    P.S. My e-mail was hacked, so I've been even more out of the online loop. Fun to visit your blog again.

  2. Lori,
    I will be reviewing another childhood book soon, and that one's scary...

    Hacked email? Shucks! I guess I'd better not order that enlarger.

    The Lost Virgin Mine

  3. Can I borrow that one? I loved the Tom Swift Junior books in the 1950's "Tom Swift and His Flying Lab" was the first one I read.
    The last one I read was "Tom Swift in the Caves of Nuclear Fire"
    This site lists the books and his inventions.
    I am quite sure The Lost Uranium Mine mine have contained a sample radioactive substance if they could have done it cheaply. After all the dentists would routinely give us little balls of mercury to play with, and there was an x ray machine in every shoe store to see if the shoes fit properly.

  4. Sue,
    Yes, you can borrow the book. That Tom Swift fella sure got around. If I were to write a Tom Swift adventure, I'd call it "Tom Swift Takes Ritalin".
    The Lost Writer Mine

  5. This book sounds very exciting. It reminds me of my big brother's books I used to borrow when I was a kid -- Enid Blyton's Adventure series -- fabulous stories full of dangerous adventures, although they didn't keep track of how many times the word kill was used. Scary!

  6. Megan,
    The word with the highest count of 60 is a tie between "click" and "counter". Reminds me of a song.

    O' I wish I were a Geiger counter,
    this is what I truly like to be.
    O' I wish I were a Geiger counter,
    then everyone would be listening to me.

    The Lost B Flat Mine

  7. Radioactive stuff, Lupe! Did your remembering your lost geiger counter have anything to do with a certain nuclear reactor threatening meltdown?

    Kill that clicking counter, now!

  8. Rilla,
    In 1957, Walt Disney Productions released Our Friend The Atom. Now who can argue with Uncle Walt?

    The Lost Fission Mine

  9. I'll check with talking books and see if they have that one. I've got to get all books of any length. The National Library Service offers books for the blind on tape.
    J. Aday Kennedy
    The Differently-Abled Writer & Speaker
    Children's Author of Klutzy Kantor & Marta's Gargantuan Wings

  10. J. Aday,
    Happy hunting.
    The Lost Mexican Mind


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