Thursday, December 1, 2011

Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917



Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917
by Sally M. Walker
Henry Holt and Company, 2011. 145 pgs. Non-fiction.

Next year the Titanic will take center stage for the 100-year anniversary of its sinking, but an equally deadly but less well known disaster happened in Halifax, Nova Scotia, just five years later when the Mont-Blanc, loaded with munitions for warring European nations collided with another ship in Halifax Harbour and exploded. It was the largest non-nuclear manmade explosion in history. The shock wave from the explosion itself leveled most of two towns. A blast-formed tsunami followed the initial explosion, and rescuers were subsequently hampered by two fierce blizzards in rapid succession. Walker, one of the finest children's non-fiction authors of our time, personalizes the disaster by following the fortunes and misfortunes of five families living in the blast zone. Consequently Blizzard of Glass becomes almost unbearably suspenseful as the reader sees the munitions' ship ablaze in the harbor and Walker begins a dread countdown: Gerald O'Brien skips towards the store, Vincent Coleman stays too long at his telegrapher's key to warn oncoming trains, and Gertrude Hook goes back into the house to get her mittens. The horrific destruction and loss of life are counterbalanced to a degree in Walker's narrative by the heroism and instant response of citizens in the affected cities and from Canada, the United States, and Europe. She includes information about the rebuilding of the cities, and what happened to the survivors. Walker and her assistants have done an extraordinary job of collecting photographs and reminiscences of the disaster and the narrative arc of the tragedy is perfectly rendered. Highly recommended for older elementary school children and up.

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