Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Blizzard! The Storm that Changed America

Blizzard! The Storm that Changed America

Jim Murphy
For ages 12 and up
Scholastic Press, 1988   ISBN: 978-0590673099

That year the winter had been very mild and the early days of March 1888 had been unseasonably warm. People's thoughts were turning to spring and spring-like pursuits. No one guessed that just a few days away a storm unlike any other would swoop down on the east coast of the United States and blast it with freezing temperatures, an enormous amount of snow, and ferocious winds. And yet this is just what happened. With very little warning the balmy temperatures of March 10th shifted and by the 12th the east coast from Virginia to Maine was in serious trouble.

It began on Sunday the 11th with heavy rain and winds but as the temperatures dropped this turned to sleet and ice and then snow. By the evening the storm was really making itself felt. Nevertheless, when people woke up on Monday morning quite a few hearty souls still set out for work and for school. They found themselves being buffeted across streets, being blinded by the driving snow and ice, and being stranded when public transportation came to a grinding halt. Indeed trains all over the region had been stopped in their tracks by the snow and there were people stranded all over the place, sometimes in the middle of nowhere.

We follow the fortunes of several people during the days leading up to, during and after the storm. There is young Sara Wilson who left Buffalo for her first train ride on March 11th. On Monday morning the train she was travelling on crashed and caught fire when the engineer tried to force the train through a snowdrift which had swept across the tracks. Sara and the other passengers were forced to walk along the tracks to the nearest town, a dreadful journey which Sara never completed.

Many other voices reach across the decades and tell us what it was like to experience this extraordinary storm first hand. There are prominent businessmen, a milkman, a farmer, children, reporters, and many others. Jim Murphy collects these stories and intimate details which together build a picture which is fascinating and captivating. We come to realise how crippling the storm was, how lost people were because they had no way to communicate (the lines were down), because trains couldn't get through, because food and fuel became scarce, and because they had to deal with mountains and mountains of snow which someone had to clear away so that life could return to normal.

Full of illustrations of the Great Blizzard and photographs which have a peculiarly timeless quality, this book is a treasure trove of information which not only describes an extraordinary event in American history but which also explains the ramifications of that event, many of which are still being felt today.