Friday, March 22, 2013

Review: Titanic: Voices from the Disaster

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster
By Deborah Hopkinson
Published 2012 by Scholastic

In April 1912, the world's largest and nearly unsinkable ship, the Titanic, hit an iceberg and sank in the Atlantic Ocean while travelling from Europe to New York City. 100 years later, we are still fascinated by this disaster and eager to hear the stories of those who were there.

This book came out to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the sinking, which was also when I was planning a program to commemorate the event. Unfortunately, our library didn't get our copy prior to the program, so I didn't have a chance to read it. Then, in the fall, I saw it getting a lot of awards buzz and I kept meaning to pick it up. I didn't get to it prior to the Youth Media Awards but once it was announced as a contender in School Library Journal's Battle of the Books and I decided to participate in The Hub's 2013 Reading Challenge, I knew I had to bump it up my TBR list.

I'm glad I did. I wouldn't say that I have any particular interest in the Titanic disaster, although preparing for my program last April definitely led me deeper into the research than I had been before. It's fascinating that this disaster has continued to capture public interest for 100 years and doesn't show any signs of stopping. In one way, it's a bit disturbing - we are fascinated by this disaster that was not only preventable, but took the lives of far more people than it should have. In another way, I think it's honorable - our continued fascination ensures that these people will not be forgotten. Hopkinson does an excellent job telling the stories of the passengers and crew who sailed aboard the ship.

Even though we know how it ends, this book keeps suspense throughout, with excellent pacing, and great placement of additional informational boxes (those that break-out from the main narrative). The chapters are told in short snapshots of different sections of the boat, or the different classes, or just the different people on board. It keeps the action flowing nicely as we read the different experiences of the same event. Hopkinson has clearly done a significant amount of research - I spent a lot of time poring over books just to prepare for my program and I still learned things I hadn't known while reading this book. It's written in a pretty straightforward manner - a tale this engrossing and adventurous doesn't really require a lot of frills. Hopkinson does a great job of letting the survivors speak for themselves where applicable and I thought she handled some of the controversies well, too (the Californian, for instance, or J. Bruce Ismay's survival) - not much judgment, leaving it mostly for the readers to form their own opinions.

I loved looking over the back matter - author's note, short capsules on the people featured in the book, tables, and bibliographies. I thought this was an excellently researched book that is highly readable and sure to fascinate kids and teens for years to come. Highly recommended.

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