Saturday, April 14, 2012

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, by Deborah Hopkinson- Review

100 years ago tonight, well technically tomorrow morning, at 2:20am the RMS Titanic sunk.  In 100 years it has not lost it's fascination, mystery and thrall on the public.  Which is amazing if you think about it, it was hardly the first nor the last boating disaster, nor the biggest disaster in the remaining years.  But the luxury, the seeming unlikelyhood of the whole thing, coupled with the many incredibly brave actions of so many (not to mention the many mysteries that still surround the sinking) all make it's story one that still told to children, still researched, and still wildly popular.

I have personal ties to the story.  My great-grandmother immigrated from Norway at the tender age of 18, and her original booking was on the Titanic.  Lucky for my family, she was bumped (as many third class ticket holders were), and ended up on a different ocean liner to New York.  Up until the 1980's the Titanic ticket was still floating around my great-grandfathers home when, as family lore has it, he got disgusted with all the "junk" and threw it out.  I likely don't have to tell you how many family members still mourn that particular load of trash.

I vividly remember when they found the Titanic in 1985, and the TV special where they aired the first pictures from the sea bed, and where they brought up certain articfacts and had a 1-800 number to call if it belonged to a realtive of yours.  So you can imagine I've been fascinated since a young age.  I read anything I come across about it, and went to the exhibit when it was in Toronto a couple of years ago.  And still, after all these years, I'm riveted by the stories and images. 

So when Titanic:Voices from the Disaster poped through my mail slot I knew it would be hard holding out until April to read it.

Deborah has written a wonderful account of the ship and those who were on it for that fateful trip.  Instead of telling it by lists and facts (which are intriguing in their own right) she uses the memories of various survivors to build the story of the voyage and sinking.  Sprinkled in are the lists, and various astounding facts, but the glue that holds this particular story together is the voices of the survivors.  Although I've heard some of them before, many I hadn't, and it lent the book a very personal tone I hadn't come across before.

I especially liked that she covered a broad range of classes, from crew (male and female), immigrants from third class, second class travellers, and of course the wealthier first class travellers. It gave variety to the telling, which so often focuses on the glamour for the first class travellers experience on the boat.  Stories, like Frank Goldsmith's, who was 9 year old third class passenger, shows how awe inspiring a trip it was across the boat.

The book has been beautifully put together, with many, many pictures and illustrations to help give the reader the sense of the Titanic, a feat difficult for most who've never taken a cruise before.  It makes the story an experience I can really see a huge variety of ages being engrossed in.

The icing on the cake for me was the appendixes, where Deborah talks about how although the Titanic has been researched for many years by a great number of people there is still much to learn.  She then goes on to encourage the reader to become a historical sleuth and gives them lists of sites where to start.  I would have adored that sort of thing when I was younger, hey, I adore it now!  What a fabulous way to encourage kids to be interested in history.

A great book, both a lovely commeoration and a fantastic tool to get all ages interested in the all the history out there.  I can't wait to share it with a fledgling historian!

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, by Deborah Hopkinson
Published by Scholastic, April 1st 2012
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
Buy Titanic: Voices From the Disaster on Amazon

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