Monday, March 12, 2012

Canadian calamities – Part 1

By coincidence, I’ve been reading a few books lately that seem to focus on various Canadian disasters. Maybe not the happiest of topics but tragedy and heroics do make for riveting stories.  The next few blogs will highlight a few of the better reads I’ve come across, nonfiction and fiction.

Blizzard of Glass: the Halifax explosion of 1917 by Sally M. Walker (971.6225 WaB 2011) is a fabulous, detailed account of the massive explosion that devastated the waterfront areas of Halifax Harbour in the early 20th century.

December 6th, 1917: it’s an ordinary morning.  People are busy at home getting children off to school, cooking and starting the day’s chores, going to church while others are busy at work along the waterfront, in warehouses or shops and offices further back into town.  In the harbour , two ships (one loaded with explosive materials used to make bombs for Allied troops in World War I), collide. Shortly afterwards, an explosion produces a gigantic cloud of smoke, intense heat (9,032 degrees Fahrenheit), and powerful, fast-travelling shock waves (5,000 feet per second) killing hundreds of people instantly and obliterating a vast area close to the harbour.
After reading nearly two hundred accounts told by survivors, Sally Walker fills her book with anecdotes of several families living in the area.  We learn what mothers, fathers and children were doing that morning.  Walker builds tension, as we know that disaster looms and we wonder who, out of these few families, will survive and who will not.

The aftermath is horrific to read about.  A tsunami, then a snow blizzard cause even more devastation and deaths in addition to hampering the efforts of relief workers.  Stories about the heroic efforts by medical personnel in the immediate area and as far away as Boston are memorable.  Overwhelmed by the sheer number of the injured and dead, doctors, nurses, soldiers, firefighters and ordinary citizens barely cope.  Compassion, kindness and perseverance rule the days following.

I found this a gripping read.  However, I do wonder what kids will make of it.  The profiles of the families and photographs help us connect on a personal level, making it more real, but it may be that the amount of detail will deter some younger readers.  The book will be invaluable to students doing research about this event but I’m not sure if those in the middle grades will gravitate to it on their own.  Don’t get me wrong, I highly recommend this book.  I also think there are some great science concepts about waves (explosions, tsunami) that could be incorporated as the author includes substantial information.

I would love to get some feedback about students’ response. Drop me a line if you get a chance.

 Today is Nonfiction Monday.  Stop by Rasco from RIF for this week's roundup.


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