Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

Lynn: I am writing this review on April 15th – the 100th anniversary of the tragic sinking of the Titanic.  The week previous has been filled with programs about the ship and it was an interesting experience to see and hear those while reading a book on the subject for young readers.  I am happy to write that Titanic:  Voices from the Disaster (Scholastic 2012) fared extremely well in comparison.   I admit to being a little reluctant to read this.  I’m not a big fan of disaster books or movies and in fact, I haven’t ever seen the James Cameron movie.

I really appreciate Hopkinson’s approach to the subject.  In the introduction she acknowledges the intense fascination with the event but goes on to point out that our interest makes us all historians.

We can’t help being curious.  What happened?  Why?  Who said what when?  What did it mean? And, of course what if?

Through the eyes and voices of some of the survivors, Hopkinson introduces readers to the ship itself, to its crew and passengers and takes us through a step-by-step investigation of what happened.  This provides us with a slight distancing that I found helpful  but it is impossible not to find these actual words and experiences intensely poignant.  Most eye-opening for me were the chapters that chronicled the 90 minutes from the collision to the final sinking and the chapters that describes the conditions in the lifeboats as the stunned survivors hoped for rescue.  Short sections depict what was happening to the individuals we had been introduced to in a vivid and terrifying count-down as the minutes clicked by.   New to me was the information on the boats in the area and the efforts of Carpathian and its crew to get to the Titanic in time and how the survivors were picked up and treated as the ship steamed to New York.

The book is packed with fascinating illustrations, photographs, maps, and telegrams.  The back matter is stellar and includes biographies of the passengers, survivor letters, a time line, fascinating statistics, a bibliography and much more.  I read the book in galley and cannot wait to see the finished copy!  This one is a must purchase for elementary and middle school collections.  Interest in this event is always high and this outstanding book does just what Hopkinson hopes it will do – “reminds us that our lives are fragile and precious and makes us wonder what it would have been like to have been aboard so many years ago.”

Cindy: It seemed you couldn’t turn anywhere this week without running into an iceberg…um…coverage of the Titanic anniversary. Even my church rearranged our seating yesterday into cruise ship dining circular tables and played music from the ship while the teaching focused on hubris. While many were following the History Channel’s Twitter stream reliving the key moments of the Titanic voyage, I was happier reading Deborah Hopkinson’s take this weekend. The big moments and the small are included. For instance,  the deviation from the norm when crew cat Jenny carried her litter of kittens off the ship, prompting one crew member to leave as well, considering Jenny’s actions a bad omen.

I, like Lynn, am eager to see this book in its finished state. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem but for the first time in 28 years of my career, my budgets were frozen mid-year. I never spend my whole budget in the fall, prefering to save money for spring releases, award titles announced mid-year, and new projects that my teachers scheme up and are excited about. But, my Scholastic Book Fair starts tomorrow, and surely when I unpack the cases today I will find Titanic: Voices from the Disaster among the offerings and can snag some copies with my profits…and booktalk it during the sale to my students. Fingers crossed….that fireman sailor is not the only superstitious one.

For more nonfiction books please go to today’s Nonfiction Monday host, The Nonfiction Detectives.




About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

1 Comment on "Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson"

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  1. I’ve seen this book in one of the IMM’s last week. Glad someone wrote a review about it. Straightforward narration in nonfiction can sometimes be a bore. It’s good to know that this book offers more than just a plain narrative. Then again, it’s about the Titanic. What’s NOT to love? Also, Deborah Hopkinson is a favorite. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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