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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Titanic:Voices from the Disaster, written by Deborah Hopkinson. Scholastic, 2012. $19.99 ages 10 and up

 "The time was 8:50 a. m. on Monday, April 15, 1912. It had been nine hours and ten minutes since the most magnificent ship on the seas had struck an iceberg.
The Carpathia left the scene with 712 Titanic survivors on board. There would be no more.
The ocean was empty."

One of the things about the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is that I have read some exemplary books about it this year. One hundred years later and people are still fascinated with any news of it. Why? Other lives have been lost, other ships gone down in the ensuing years. What is it about this ship that captivates so many?

I don't know the answer, but I do know that I have an abiding interest in the people who sailed from England to the cold North Atlantic Ocean and of the ship itself, deemed to be unsinkable and yet, as the above quote states, it took just a little over nine hours for the entire colossal event to play itself out.

I will admit that I have not always been interested in its story; this year has changed that. In reading the half dozen or more books that I did read, both fiction and nonfiction, I was struck by the similarities. Though the tellings have been varied, many of the same faces and voices found their way into each book. From the first page of this one, it is apparent that Deborah Hopkinson did her research, and did it with heart and wonder.

Her account comes from interviews done with some of the survivors; using their memories she fashions a personal retelling that gets right to the heart of the tragedy. Those voices give it life and make it memorable for all who read it.  She chooses her characters from all walks of life, from each class's passenger list, and many crew members. This allows for variety in impressions of the ship, its decks, its staff and the many opportunities for adventure and learning while aboard.

The design is unique, the archival photographs and captions offering an in-depth look at the fascinating and colossal ship. As readers we have a sense that we know what it must have felt like to be on board this floating city, as well as the sense of urgency when disaster struck and no one was truly prepared to deal with it. So many brave souls took the lead to get as many women and children safely into boats as they could, despite chaos and lack of practice in manning the lifeboats. It is heartbreaking to listen as families must say goodbye and trust that they will see each other again. There was a real sense of connection to all of them.

Then, with further aplomb, Ms. Hopkinson adds detailed and most appreciated appendixes that include a glossary, a recap of the book's characters, others who were aboard, letters that were written home once passengers were safely rescued by the Carpathia. And on it goes to a Titanic timeline, facts and figures, reports, tables, bibliography, source notes and an index. Gosh, nothing is left out!

There is much to be considered:

"The events of the Titanic disaster can be seen as a symbol of what happens through overconfidence in technology, complacence, and a mindset of profits over people's safety. The tragedy also reveals much about the society and class structure of the time. While the formal findings did not conclude that third class passengers were the victims of intentional discrimination, the statistics of the disaster, where more people in third class died than in any other, tell a more sobering story. In some cases, entire families - mothers, fathers, and children - in third class, perished."

This is a book that is sure to inspire interested young people to delve deeper into the mystery that remains about this magnificent ship and its tragic end.

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