Adele has been a youth services librarian in public libraries for 20 years.
The Titanic Story: Data and Drama
As long as I have been a children's librarian, kids have loved reading books about the Titanic steamship. The story has enough facts and technicalities to challenge the fact hounds, and enough drama to satisfy those who just like a good story.
New! I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912: the Graphic Novel by Lauren Tarshis
The “I Survived” series of books is so tremendously popular, that it’s no surprise that many of them are now available in the equally tremendously popular graphic novel format.
I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 hooks the reader in right away with several color plates even before the title page. We see a frightened boy, George, on the deck of the tilting Titanic as it sinks. After one especially big lurch, he hits his head, and “even the stars go black.”
Children who read this series will know that the whole point is to read about children who survived disasters, and it is easy to see them eagerly turning the pages to find out how George got into such a precarious state and how he is going to survive the catastrophe.
When they turn the page, readers flash back to 19 hours earlier on Sunday morning when George’s aunt is giving him a bit of a hard time because he has been a handful on the ship. He has explored all over the ship and even slid down the banister on the main staircase. He agrees to be on better behavior, mostly because he knows his father might send him to a military academy if he gets a bad report from his aunt.
George and his little sister Phoebe, spend that morning exploring more of the ship, which gives readers a chance to see some of the striking features of the largest ship that had ever been built up to that time. We also found out that they have met two of the interesting actual people from the ship. Thomas Andrews was the designer of the ship that was advertised as “nearly unsinkable” and William Thomas Stead was a writer who hinted that a real Egyptian mummy was in the cargo hold and just might have put a curse on the ship.
This last bit of information whets George’s curiosity, and at night he sneaks down to the cargo hold to see if he can get a glimpse of the mummy. He gets more excitement than he bargained for as he comes across a scar-faced knife-wielding man and only gets away in the chaos after the ship hits the iceberg.
His adventure continues as he searches the ship for his sister who has gone missing, and briefly gets locked into the third class quarters, but saves the day by locating the emergency exit in getting his family out. The action is well paced and children will find themselves finishing this book in no time.
The original “I Survived” books are written at about a fourth grade level, but this graphic novel was written at an early third grade level, making it more accessible to younger readers or to those who are very reluctant to read longer books.
While the story doesn’t dwell on the tragedy and loss of life, it does acknowledge what happened as George reflects on how many people died. He is especially distressed newsboys call out the headlines about the Titanic, and he covers his ears. But he does find a measure of peace at the end of the story as he reunites with his father on the farm and they talk about how they might build the little boat for sailing around their pond.
The illustrations are lively and dramatically colored, befitting the drama of the story. They have an old-fashioned aesthetic to them which makes the story seem all that more authentic. It’s a fine addition to the collection of works for kids and will especially appeal to those readers who enjoy the pictures and the drama.
Disaster on the Titanic (Ranger in Time) by Kate Messner
I’ve been a fan of Kate Messner’s novels which always include and intriguing magical premise, and when I saw she had written this book with the Titanic as a setting, I knew I had to pick it up.
Disaster on the Titanic is part of the “Ranger in Time” series in which a dog named Ranger travels back in time to help out people in trouble. He’s had training as a rescue dog, but washed out of the program because sometimes he would rather chase after schools than do his task. Still, he has the skills and instincts of a rescue dog.
In this brief chapter book, Ranger finds himself transported back to 1912 and accompanying an Irish boy named Patrick Murphy who has worked on the building of the Titanic and has been chosen to sail on its maiden voyage. It's a short book and a well-told story that will appeal to children who have started reading chapter books. The reading level is around 4th grade and the print is nice and big, a feature that can be helpful to reluctant readers.
When the ship hits the iceberg, Ranger jumps into action and helps Patrick save his friends. It's a fast-paced story that also tucks in quite a few facts about the Titanic along the way.
What I especially liked about the book is that it talks about the people from different countries who sailed on the Titanic. Patrick befriends two children from Lebanon at the beginning of the voyage, and it is those children he is working to save.
It also shows what an enormous job it was to build the Titanic. Patrick's father worked at building the ship, but was one of the eight men who died in an accident during construction (it happens before the story opens & is not graphically described.)
Messner includes some historical notes and kid-friendly resources for further reading and research at the end of the story.
The Titanic (Survival Tails) by Katrina Charman
Grades 2-5, 224 pages, 2018
If you have a child who likes animals and drama, this book will fit the bill. It's a little like the animal version of the wildly popular “I Survived” series by Lauren Tarshis.
The Titanic by Katrina Charman tells its story through the eyes of Mutt, a loyal dog who can't bear to be separated from his girl, Alice, who is going to America with her father on the Titanic. Mutt is a clever dog, and manages to escape his new owner and figure out where the Titanic is. With the help of an enterprising rat, he sneaks onto the ship in a mail bag and hides out in the mail room until the ship sets sail.
Meanwhile, we also follow the story of a cat named Clara, a loyal and proper companion to Captain Edward Smith. When she discovers three abandoned kittens in an abandoned lifeboat, she is torn between the rules of the ship and her maternal instincts, but the latter win out, and she does what she can to help and protect the kittens.
Of course, all the animals meet up with each other on the ship, and they have to help each other--and their humans--to try to survive when the ship starts sinking.
The writing is clear and engaging and just the kind of action-packed, heartwarming drama that makes for a short and satisfying read. It's the sort of thing I would have gobbled up in an afternoon when I was a kid.
I do feel compelled to give a bit of a SPOILER ALERT for parents who might have a sensitive child. Since the story of the Titanic is the story of a disaster, not all of the animals survive the sinking. The rat doesn't appear again, though we're not quite sure what has happened to him. And Clara, the cat, gallantly goes down with the ship along with the captain. It is all dealt with just about as gently as possible with this kind of story. The author doesn't go into detail about the scary parts, and the deaths are only alluded to, happening "offstage." Still, if your child isn't used to losing any characters in a story, this series could be a little upsetting.
Charman includes quite a few resources at the back on the book. In the Author's Note, she explains that the main characters were fictional (Captain Smith didn't have a cat with him on the voyage), but that she tried to follow the facts of the story. She explains the reasons why the Titanic sank and why so few people were rescued. She also includes a timeline and some interesting facts about the Titanic and the animals on board.
The Titanic Mission (Flashback Four) by Dan Gutman
I was happy to see that Dan Gutman has now written a story involving the Titanic since he is such a popular author with the kids. He’s best known for writing the “My Weird School” series, beginning chapter books that have sold more than 10 million copies.
For this new series “Flashback Four,” he writes historical fiction in the guise of fantasy with the premise that four children (2 girls and 2 boys) go back in time to take photos of important historical events that were not photographed at the time. They are sent on these missions by a tech billionaire, Miss Z, who has managed to get a time machine and wants to collect photos that don’t yet exist.
It’s the same type of device that Mary Pope Osborne uses to get children interested in historical fiction, and this series would be an excellent next step for kids who have read the Magic Tree House series. It’s a slightly higher reading level (45.-5.0) and works more information about the historical event into the story.