________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 7 . . . . November 26, 1999

cover Disaster! 36 Real-Life Tragedies. (Rev. Ed.)

Rene Schmidt.
Markham, ON: Scholastic Canada Ltd., 1999 (1985).
152 pp., pbk., $5.99.
ISBN 0-590-51426-1.

Subject Heading:
Disasters-Canada-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4 - 8 / Ages 9 - 13.
Review by Liz Greenaway.

**** /4


On the morning of December 6, an ammunition ship called the Mont Blanc was entering Halifax harbour. A freighter, the Imo, was heading out. The Mont Blanc was like a huge floating bomb: as long as a football field, twenty metres wide, and fully loaded with high explosives. For some reason, both ships steered for the same side of the narrow channel.

Big freighters are very hard to steer, and by the time the Imo began to change course it was too late. It ran into the Mont Blanc, ripping it open like a pop can. A fire started on board. For a few desperate minutes, the crew tried to put it out. Then they dropped everything and ran, knowing the ship was going to blow up and kill them all. Only a few people on shore knew that the crippled vessel in the harbour with blue flames licking from it was a loaded ammunition ship. One of them was a telegraph operator. He sent this message: "Ammunition ship on fire, drifting to Pier 9. Goodbye." His body was never found.

In his introduction, Rene Schmidt states, "Disasters can occur anywhere, and to anybody. You could be involved in a disaster today or tomorrow. Sometimes they are caused by human beings, at others by the powerful and deadly forces of nature." Perhaps it is this democratic nature of disasters that so fascinates us, the fact that they can happen to anyone, anywhere and that they do not discriminate against race, class or nation. In any case, be it Hurricane Floyd or the latest train crash in London, they do fascinate us even as they horrify us with their carnage.
     Originally published in 1985, Disaster! has been revised to include 36 tales of real-life Canadian tragedies, including recent events like the Quebec ice storm, the Red River flood, and the crash of SwissAir Flight 111. While these will be familiar to most readers, many stories will be new, such as the Vancouver fire of 1886 or the shipwrecks and plane crashes that have long since been forgotten. Schmidt does an excellent job of making these incidents come alive, including personal quotes from survivors often and with great effect. These events become vividly real to the reader, and the breadth and scope of the tragedy hits home. The inclusion of black and white photos is also effective in conveying the nature of each disaster, be it the picture of Toronto's downtown after the 1904 fire, or the incredible photo of the destruction of the "bridge that fell twice."
     Many teachers will welcome this straightforward yet dynamic entry into a history lesson. It will also be a useful resource for projects. However, it also will be devoured by young readers who are, like most of the human race, fascinated by disaster.

Highly recommended.

Liz Greenaway is a former bookseller who resides in Edmonton, AB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364