I Survived the Sinking of the Titantic, 1912 by Lauren Tarshis. Scholastic Paperbacks (June 1, 2010). ISBN: 978-0545206945. 112 pages. Cover by Steve Stone. Interior Illustrations by Scott Dawson. RL4 007-010. Includes Facts about the Titanic and an Author’s Note.
Ten-year-old George Calder can’t believe his luck — he and his little sister, Phoebe, are on the famous Titanic, crossing the ocean with their Aunt Daisy. The ship is full of exciting places to explore, but when George ventures into the first class storage cabin, a terrible boom shakes the entire boat. Suddenly, water is everywhere, and George’s life changes forever.
Tarshis opens the story on Monday, April 15, 1912 at 2:00 a.m. on the deck of RMS Titanic, the ship is sinking and ten-year-old George Calder is on the deck holding on to the rail in the freezing cold. The ship begins to tilt and George looses his grip and is knocked unconscious. Thus ends Chapter 1. What? The ship is already sinking and our main character is unconscious. I doubt there is a reader born who could put the book down at this point. We’re hooked.
Chapter 2 starts nineteen hours earlier on Sunday, April 14 at 7:15 a.m. in a first class suite on B Deck. Now we go back and meet George and his eight-year-old sister Phoebe. They are returning to America after visiting London and the surrounding area with their Aunt Daisy.
As we follow George, we learn that he is always getting in trouble and is as curious as a cat. He’s been all over the ship even to areas where he is not supposed to go. He’s made friends in steerage and exasperated his aunt and his sister — not to mention a number of the other first class passengers.
George, in other words is a typical boy who if there isn’t an adventure handy will invent some of his own. We also learn that his behavior had previously been causing problems between him and his father. Since George and Phoebe’s mother died a few years ago the family just hasn’t been the same. This trip was a time-out for father and son — a chance to get some distance and calm down.
So, even though he’s only ten, George is observant and makes a great point of view character for us. We see the ship through his eyes as he explores the ship. He meets some of the people who become famous or infamous due to their connection with this ship and the tragic end of its maiden voyage.
The author researched the ship and the accident that sunk her and tells a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat even knowing what is going to happen. Now though, it’s seen and told through the experiences of a ten-year-old boy who will never be the same. He saw great courage and great cowardice. He found strength he didn’t know he had. He survived and, while he doesn’t understand survivor’s guilt, he nonetheless feels it keenly.
The George who survives the sinking of the Titanic, is not the same person we got to know when we flashed back nineteen hours and then moved forward to the collision with the iceberg.
At the end of the book there’s an author’s note listing the references used and a section of Facts about the Titanic. I think it would have been nice to list some books where young readers could learn more about the Titanic and the people who survived and died that night in 1912.
I can’t think of a better way to learn about history than through fictional stories that allow you the opportunity to see how a historic event affected the people who lived through it. If you know a young person who is interested in the Titanic, this just might be the book they’re looking for.
On a side note, a few years ago I attended a convention in California where the Queen Mary is anchored. The ship is now a hotel. In walking about the decks that first day I wondered how much smaller it was than the Titanic. I found a chart target in the little soda shop and learned that the Queen Mary is much larger, which surprised me. The Titanic always looked so huge in the movies and reading about all the decks and people (staff and passengers), I just assumed it was huge. We all keep learning all the time.
Tags: Children's Literature, History, Titanic, Young Adult Literature