Monday, April 2, 2012

Picture Book (History): Titanic Sinks! (by Barry Denenberg)

Summary of Titanic Sinks!  (by Barry Denenberg)
With extensive research as his basis, Denenberg uses several different methods in his narrative about the RSS Titanic.  Beginning four years before its maiden voyage, the planning, construction, and final preparations are revealed through newspaper articles.  The format is set up to look like an actual newspaper including the texture of paper.  Once the ship embarks, the narrative shifts to a journal format describing the passengers and activities during the voyage up through the sinking of the vessel. This section appears to be written with an antique typewriter on crinkled-looking, yellowed paper.   An hour by hour quick-guide description of the events is recounted.  Following the sinking, firsthand accounts of actual survivors are reported.   Then, the interview approach is used to examine the rescue of the survivors from the captain of the Carpathia’s perspective.  Finally, in the closing note from the publisher, a summary of the aftermath of the tragedy is discussed.  Artifacts and photographs are interspersed in all the sections, giving the situation a personal and intimate feeling.     

I appreciate the variety of approaches used to illuminate the events surrounding one of the Western World’s most significant disasters.  They keep the storytelling fresh and engaging. 

Most of the information in the newspaper section is fascinating.  I was engaged in reading about the accommodations and preparations, in particular.  The artifacts such as the 1st class menu on the day of the sinking and a poster with the prices of steerage tickets are a wonderful touch.  Also, there are photographs of the people, the rooms, and the construction.  The articles are well-written with one exception.  The headline is “Fifteen-Year-Old Dies in Fall From Titanic’s Hull,” yet the story is about them building a section of the boat.  The last paragraph mentions someone died.  The title is misleading, and the mention of the death was not given its proper due--especially since it is the title of the article.  One of my favorite articles is about Captain Smith because it is a multifaceted description of his character and background. 

The journal section is a combination of personal glimpses of real people on board and factual information about the events.  It becomes particularly emotional as families are being broken up when women and children are put on lifeboats while other couples make the decision to stay together on the sinking ship.  The limitation of this perspective is that everything is seen through the eyes of the first class and the shipmen servicing them.  There is little mention of the second or third class passengers. 

The first-hand accounts are particularly difficult to read.  Many described the cries of thousands slowly freezing to death in their ocean grave.  Some ships were close enough to help but did not due to fears of capsizing themselves.  The interview with the Carpathia captain depicts the rescue of the survivors and their journey to New York. 
Despite a couple imperfections, I highly recommend Titanic Sinks!  This selection is sure to arouse further interest in this historical calamity and the people who endure it.  With the 100 year anniversary quickly approaching, Titanic Sinks! is a perfect way to honor those who perished on that fateful night by learning about the courage of those who stayed on the ship to the end and by remembering the mistakes made so they will never be repeated. 

Teaching Opportunities:
  • Writing:  with examples of newspaper articles, journal entries, and a personal interview, there are opportunities to study and discuss these formats as well as to practice them
  • Language Arts:  identify and talk about some of the causes and effects in the narrative
  • Ethics:  discuss some of the ethical issues like—Was the crew irresponsible in the way they filled they lifeboats?   What responsibility did the crew have to the second and third class passengers?  Was it fair to prevent them from getting on the ships sooner?  Should fathers with small children be able to get on a lifeboat?  What if he is the only parent alive?  What should the Captain and crew have done to save more lives?  Is Captain Smith at all responsible?  If so, to what degree?
  • History:  compare and contrast the sinking of the Titanic to other modern world resonating events—Pearl Harbor and 9/11
  • Brimful Curiosities:  This blog has an extensive list of sites with extension activities and learning opportunities on the Titanic.
Head over to RIF for other Nonfiction Monday selections as well as to the Hip Homeschool Hop and Momto2PoshLilDivas to network with other parents and educators.  


  1. This sounds like a fascinating read. We are reading Beowulf right now- my kids love high-action stuff! Thanks for this honest review, we will be checking this book out.

  2. Thanks so much for the mention! Did you know right now you can read this book for free online in the entirety at


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