In this gripping account, Heiligman (Vincent and Theo) relates the September 1940 attack by a German submarine on the British passenger ship SS City of Benares, which killed 258 people, including 77 children. In unflinching detail, the book depicts the often fatal struggles of enduring a torpedo strike at sea, as well as the selfless acts of those striving to keep other passengers alive. Distinguished by expertly woven research, including the author’s own interviews, the book focuses on the 90 Children’s Overseas Reception Board children who were being sent, like others before them, to safety in Canada. The volume describes the families’ tearful farewells and then the children’s delight during the first days on “the floating palace.” Frequent hints of the approaching disaster build momentum as the attack nears, and the tension increases dramatically as the narrative shifts to riveting individual stories of those awaiting rescue in lifeboats or on rafts. Accompanied by photographs and illustrations and including documentation of all who were on board, this is a harrowing yet inspiring look at a little-covered historical event. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 10–14. (Oct.)
Gr 5–8—Heiligman tells a story of bravery, courage, and despair through the eyes of the passengers on the SS City of Benares, a ship commissioned to sail to Canada with 100 children on board during World War II. The SS City of Benares was torpedoed by a German submarine. The imagery of the waves hitting the lifeboats and rafts as the survivors hung on for life is so vivid that readers almost feel as if they, too, are fighting for their lives. Heiligman includes information about the lascars, or Indian sailors, many of whom gave their lives to save as many people as they could. The book is filled with photographs, illustrations, and letters written from the children to their families, as well as the telegraphs reporting the deaths of those on board. The extensive back matter, paired with the author's deft narrative touch, makes this title a must purchase for libraries, a must-read for all, and a beautiful memorial for those who perished in this tragic event. VERDICT Expect this book to garner Heiligman another nonfiction award. Pair this with Susan Wood's historical fiction novel Lifeboat 12.—Stephanie Wilkes, Good Hope Middle School, West Monroe, LA
Heiligman recounts the little-known World War II maritime disaster of the sinking of the passenger ship City of Benares, which was evacuating children from England to Canada.
In 1940, with German air raids reducing many of England's major cities to smoldering ruins and a threatened invasion looming, thousands of British parents chose to send their children to safety in Canada through a program called the Children's Overseas Reception Board. On Sept. 13, 1940, the passenger liner departed Liverpool in a convoy bound for Canadian ports. Onboard were 90 CORB children, their chaperones, crew, and paying passengers. Their Royal Navy escort left it on Sept. 17, and that night, unaware of the refugee children aboard, the commander of German submarine U-48 ordered three torpedoes launched at the Benares, the third hitting its target with devastating effect. Heiligman makes the story especially compelling by recounting the backstories and experiences of several of the children and their chaperones. These characters are presumably white; Heiligman takes care to note that the overwhelming majority of the crew were South Asian Muslims whose stories were not collected after the disaster. It's a customarily masterfully paced and beautifully designed book, with reproductions of archival photographs and documents complemented by original pencil art by Lee that captures the action aboard the Benares and afterward. Expansive backmatter includes interviews conducted with Heiligman's sources, several by her.
An exceptionally well-researched and impressively crafted tale of desperation, tragedy, and survival. (bibliography, notes, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)
YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award finalist
Golden Kite Award winner
Hornbook Fanfare selection
Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year
"An exceptionally well-researched and impressively crafted tale of desperation, tragedy, and survival." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review, on Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of "The Children's Ship"
"Extensively documented accounts tell of harrowing escapes, incredible heroism, tragic accidents, eventual rescues, and the gruesome aftermath . . . the real-time unfolding of events is compelling, and young audiences will relate to these stories about students their own age." —Booklist, starred review, on Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of "The Children's Ship"
"Heiligman tells a story of bravery, courage, and despair . . . a must-read for all, and a beautiful memorial for those who perished in this tragic event."—School Library Journal, starred review, on Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of "The Children's Ship"
"Nonfiction maestro Heiligman here tells a riveting wartime story. . . . Heiligman builds and maintains suspense while remaining scrupulously faithful to the historical record." —Horn Book, starred review, on Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of "The Children's Ship"
"[A] harrowing yet inspiring look at a little-covered historical event" —Publishers Weekly on Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of "The Children's Ship"
"[R]iveting accounts of terror, death, heroism, and sacrifice, and foreshadowings of either doom or rescue give the pace a breathless urgency . . . a fascinating look at the intersections of “fate, human, error, accident, and bad luck” that so often bring about tragedy." —The Bulletin on Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of "The Children's Ship"
"Heiligman explores a harrowing moment in history with clear, insightful prose." —Shelf Awareness on Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of "The Children's Ship"