Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Titanic: Disaster at sea

Titanic: Disaster at sea

Martin Jenkins
Illustrator:  Brian Sanders 
For ages 10 to 12
Candlewick, 2008   ISBN: 978-0763637958

When the world heard that the great ocean liner, the RMS Titanic had sunk with great loss of life the news was greeted with shock and dismay. How could the "unsinkable" ship have sunk? Hadn't everyone said that this was a vessel was better than any the world had seen? How could something like this have happened?

The Titanic was built in Northern Ireland, the brainchild of J. Bruce Ismay (the managing director of the White Star Line shipping company) and Lord Pirrie (chairman of the board of a shipyard in Belfast where she was built). These men wanted to build a ship which was fast and luxurious, a ship which would put the ships of the rival Cunard line in the shadow. The plan was to make the Titanic the biggest ship afloat and certainly the rooms and facilities would be of the best.

Nine decks tall, the truly massive Titanic was built with sixteen watertight compartments in her hold. Thus if she was holed the water could be isolated in the damaged section of the ship. Even if three of these compartments were flooded, the ship could still stay afloat.

Every modern convenience was provided for, including a radio room, fabulously appointed public rooms, a swimming pool, Turkish baths, and much more. The ship also had more lifeboats than was required by law but there would still not be enough for the 3,500 passengers and crew if the ship sank.

After almost three years of work the Titanic was finally ready to be boarded on April 10th, 1912. Her passenger list included many rich and famous people including Colonel John Jacob Astor. Then there were the passengers who were off to America to build new lives for themselves. Not a few of these were women and their children who were going to join husbands who had gone to America ahead of the rest of the family.

After dropping off and picking up passengers in Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown, Ireland, the Titanic sailed out into open ocean for the first time on April 11th. The ship was not full but she had more than 2,000 people on board.

For two days all went well. The ocean was calm and the Captain Smith was able to make good time. On Sunday the 14th the radio operator received several warnings that there was ice ahead, right in the Titanic's path. Some of these messages did not get to the captain by he was still aware of the potential danger and lookouts were posted to watch for floating ice. Because of poor visibility the lookouts only saw the iceberg at the last minute. The officers on the bridge were able to take evasive maneuvers but the ship still hit the iceberg a glancing blow. The officers soon found out that the iceberg had damaged the ship so badly that six compartments in the hold were flooding. The ship was "doomed."

Two hours after the encounter with the iceberg, distress flares were being sent up and the radio operator was broadcasting messages asking for help. The crew began to round up the passengers to get them into the lifeboats. The first boats were mostly full of first class passengers (women and children especially) and crew members. Later boats had second and third class passengers in them as well. But, as J. Bruce Ismay well knew, there was only room for 1,178 passengers in the lifeboats if they were loaded properly (which they were not); more than a thousand people would have no where to go. In the end 1,496 people who were on the Titanic died.

Very few people are not interested in, and moved by, the story of the Titanic. It is a story which continues to fascinate people of all ages. The story reminds us that it never pays to think that man can triumph over nature. No matter how clever our machines and inventions are, Mother Nature always has the power to destroy what we build.

Written with careful attention to detail, this book tells an extraordinary story. Illustrations, diagrams and period photographs can be found throughout the book, providing excellent background information about the ship and the tragedy that befell her.