Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Quake! Disaster in San Francisco, 1906

Quake! Disaster in San Francisco, 1906

Gail Langer Karwoski
Illustrator:  Robert Papp 
Historical Fiction
For ages 10 to and up
Peachtree, 2004   ISBN: 978-1561453108

Jacob Kaufman’s day has begun very badly. The day before, Jacob’s uncle Avi gave him a little stray dog to take home, saying that a dog is good for "little children to play with." Not surprisingly Jacob’s father was not happy to see the dog when he got home from work. In fact, the night before his father insisted that Jacob take the dog back to his uncle Avi as soon as possible explaining that it is too soon after Jacob’s mother’s death to be thinking about getting a pet. In the early hours of the morning the dog began to make the most awful racket and Jacob left the apartment to take the dog back to where he first saw it, in the market district, sick at heart and angry with his father.

Jacob is not far from home when his whole world seems to turn upside down; the road heaves under his feet, the buildings around him shake and shiver, and the air is full of the noise of destruction and terror. When the cataclysm finally comes to an end, Jacob runs back to his street and discovers that the tenement that he used to live in is no more than a pile of rubble. His father and little sister are no where to be found but there are clues that Jacob’s family did manages to escape the effects of the earthquake that shook the city. Surely they must be out on the streets somewhere looking for him.

This begins Jacob’s extraordinary adventure to find his father and little sister and with him, at his heels, trots the little dog. Jacob calls the dog Quake and he turn out to be a real blessing in disguise, for Quake quite literally turns out to be a life saver. Not only does he save Jacob’s life but he also helps rescue a Chinese boy who is buried in a collapsed house in Chinatown. San turns out to be in very much the same situation as Jacob, his family gone and their whereabouts unknown. So, the three of them, the two boys and the dog, begin to search what remains of the city for their families.

On their journey Jacob learns about what it is like to be a Chinese person living in San Francisco. He sees racism at first hand and it disgusts him. He also has the good luck to meet people with kind and open hearts who don’t care that San is Chinese and who only see him as the lost boy that he is.

Fascinating, engrossing, and packed with historically accurate details, the author of this book has created a work which is sure to entertain both young and older readers. The reader gets to see in living color how a disaster can bring out both the best, and the worst in people, and what the American immigrant experience was like for those who did not have Anglo-Saxon roots.