Titanic Voices From the DisasterTitle: Titanic: Voices From the Disaster
Author: Deborah Hopkinson
ISBN: 9780545116749
Pages: 289 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2012.

[...]On Thursday morning at around 11:30 a.m., the Titanic lowered her anchor two miles off Cobh harbor, at the Irish port of Queenstown (no w called Cobh), to pick up more passengers. It would be the ship’s last stop before heading out onto open seas — and to the New World. [...]
Years later, Frank (of Father Frank Browne) recounted that at dinner the first night on board he was befriended by a rich American couple, who offered to pay his way for the entire voyage — all the way to New York. But when he wired his religious order for permission to go, it was denied. The message read: “Get off that ship.”
So Frank left the ship — along with his precious photographic plates.
And that’s how it happened that today, thanks to Frank Browne and his uncle Robert’s generosity, we have his rare, heartbreaking photographs of those first hours of the Titanic’s maiden voyage. (21)

It’s stories of the near misses of people who survived the Titanic‘s sinking that strike readers so poignantly. Frank Browne received a two-day ticket as a gift, and departed the vessel before it reached open seas. Joe Mulholland decided not to sign up for work because he saw the ship’s cat carrying her kittens off the boat and took it as a bad omen. Violet Jessop, who at just 24 was working as a stewardess and who later would survive the sister-ship Britannica’s sinking during the war. But it’s also the story of the losses, like Alfred Rush who turned 16 on the boat just the day before and refused to get in a lifeboat because he was a man and not a child. Drawing extensively from first hand accounts of the disaster along with the work of historians, scientists, and researchers from today, Deborah Hopkinson puts the sinking of the Titanic into perspective and brings it to life.

I was a little skeptical of this book when I first heard about it, being published during the year of the 100th anniversary of its sinking. But I was pleasantly surprised by its quality and the emotions that it wrings out of readers. Covering the stories of children and adults, passengers and crew, Hopkinson presents a well-rounded look of the events of that night. Drawing heavily from previous works, her over 60 pages of source notes, photo credits, facts, glossary, timelines, and index due credit to the research profession, proving to readers the right way to cite your sources and providing an amazing wealth of resources. People interested in the disaster should check it out simply for the works cited, as it details the works of some of the survivors and provides resources to hear their accounts. I didn’t fully realize that since the event was 100 years ago, we no longer have any survivors alive today. Millvina Dean was the last survivor alive, passing away in 2009, but she was just nine weeks old at its sinking so I don’t know how much she could fully remember.

The source that everyone who is intrigued by the sinking should check out is http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org. This site is an absolute wealth of information about the survivors, the victims, the crew and passengers, even going so far as to document the description of the bodies recovered from the wreckage. The BBC also has some recordings of survivors telling their stories, which is fascinating to consider that we have that information available to us. Even if you don’t consult their additional sources, Hopkinson adds depth to the events by putting the crash into historical context with information that has come to light over the years. For instance, it doesn’t seem to be common knowledge that the Californian, a liner that was just ten to twenty miles away from the Titanic, shut off their radio just minutes before the collision occurred and could have helped if they’d only recognized the flares in the sky as a distress call.

All in all, you know that this is going to be a heartbreaking account, and still I encourage readers to take a look at this in-depth record. It’s not dry (pardon the pun) nonfiction but a well written compilation of accounts, superbly strung together while relating the story from setting off to sinking down,  drawing you in and making you feel as if you were there.

This is the first in a series of posts as part of YALSA’s challenge to read all the Nonfiction Award and Morris Debut Award Finalists before the winners are announced on January 28th. You can find the list of five finalists for each award on YALSA’s blog The Hub (Morris Award Finalists can be found here), along with information about the challenge.

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