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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Deadly Voyage: RMS Titanic, written by Hugh Brewster. Scholastic, 2011. $14.99 ages 10 and up

"It was an iron staircase, so narrow that we had to brace ourselves to climb up it, since the ship was now listing toward the port side. When I looked down and saw water lapping up the steps only a few decks below us, I was shocked. The stairway lamps were shining through the water like lights in a swimming pool."

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, I expect that a number of books will be released. I was interested to see that Hugh Brewster has written this one for the I Am Canada series from Scholastic. I have enjoyed the other books I have read in the series and was prepared to like this one, too.

I was not disappointed. Hugh Brewster tells the compelling story of Jamie Laidlaw, the young son of a family making the maiden voyage from England to New York. He is thrilled to be on board and to have the chance to meet others who are making the crossing, and to see the workings of such a large and luxurious ship. He's eager to see all areas of the ship, and even gets himself into some trouble with a friend while chasing a pet rat into places they were not supposed to be.

Jamie and his family are first class passengers, and he is eager to describe the opulence of the many places he discovers as he explores the ship. The dining rooms, the amazing and abundant food, the gym, and other facilities are all there to be enjoyed by the Titanic's passengers. Jamie is not delighted with their dining room companions but he is interested in knowing what he can about the many rich and famous people travelling with them.
When the iceberg is struck, it sends many into panic mode. That leads to unnecessary mistakes as the first lifeboats were only partly filled in the rush to get them off the sinking ship. There were only sixteen lifeboats for more than 2200 people...not nearly enough to prevent catastrophe and a huge loss of life.  Many of those people in third class did not even make it to the upper decks before it was too late:

"When the Carpathia finally arrived just before dawn, it took aboard only 712 people from the 2209 who had been on board the Titanic."

Hugh Brewster is a man who knows the history of this ship, and he shows that he has done much research before writing this story. The only fictional family members are the Laidlaws and their maid. All others actually made the trip and their stories are well documented in the hundred years since the tragedy. That fact gives his story an authenticity and immediacy that makes it even more compelling. It feels like nonfiction and is perfect for his target is a series of stories meant to attract a boy reader. The reality of Jamie's harrowing experience once he is in the water and perched atop an overturned lifeboat, needing to hold it in balance (along with many others) by placing his feet on either side of centre to keep it from capsizing is real and terrifying...and bone-chilling, as it was so cold. I could feel that cold, and the terror as I read the detailed descriptions.  

The historical note, glossary, archived photographs, body tags, diagrams and the final author's note add  interest and are sure to send some readers searching for more stories.

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