Monday, June 6, 2016
NONFICTION MONDAY: Blizzard of Glass by Sally M. Walker
ABOUT THE BOOK
On December 6, 1917 two ships collided in Halifax Harbour. One ship was loaded top to bottom with munitions and one held relief supplies, both intended for wartorn Europe. The resulting blast flattened two towns, Halifax and Dartmouth, and killed nearly 2,000 people. As if that wasn't devastating enough, a blizzard hit the next day, dumping more than a foot of snow on the area and paralyzing much-needed relief efforts.
Fascinating, edge-of-your-seat storytelling based on original source material conveys this harrowing account of tragedy and recovery. This thoroughly-researched and documented book can be worked into multiple aspects of the common core curriculum.
After reading about the Halifax explosion in another book, I wanted to know more about it and I knew I had this book so I hunted it up. And I was not disappointed. Sally Walker has done a great job of telling the story of this tragic event that occurred almost 100 years ago and left it's mark on so many. Walker begins by giving a brief history of both Halifax itself and World War I, knowledge of which is helpful in understanding the disaster itself. After all, it was because of World War I that an ship full of ammunition entered the Halifax Harbor in the first place. The second chapter of the book takes a look at the two ships at the heart of the accident, describing the ships themselves, where they were coming from, and whose command they were under. Chapter three looks at some of the families living in the disaster zone and their circumstances before the explosion, giving the disaster a more human face. Stories like this make the events seem all the more real. Chapter four gives the details about how the accident occurred as far as it is known. Even as I read this chapter, I couldn't help wishing that someone, anyone, would make a different decision that would alter events, despite knowing this wouldn't happen. It was interesting to read in the author's acknowledgements that she felt the same way as she wrote the book. It's impossible to read this book without feeling a little sick at heart at the tragic nature of the whole thing, and heartsick for the families that lost so much.
Chapter five gives the locations and activities for the families included in chapter three just as the explosion occurred. Chapter six describes the explosion itself and the incredible devastation that occurred. This was the hardest chapter for me to read. Up until the dropping of the atomic bomb at the end of World War II, this explosion was the worst such man-caused disaster to ever have occurred. The photographs included throughout the book add a great deal to making the realities of the tragedy that much more real. The pictures of streets completely flattened is rather shocking. Chapter seven looks at the human cost of the disaster as Walker shares what happened to the families mentioned earlier. Chapter eight offers hope as I read about the incredible response of those who wanted to help, as doctors, nurses, rescuers, and tons of supplies were sent to the suffering community. Chapter nine looks at the incredible amount of work that continued through a couple of nasty blizzards as people continued to look for the dead and injured, setting up many temporary hospitals and a temporary morgue. Reading about devastated families having to identify their dead relatives was heartbreaking. And chapters eleven and twelve look at the days, weeks, months, and years after the disaster and the rebuilding and recovery efforts as well as the impact on various families and their descendants. Walker has created a thoroughly readable and heart-wrenching account of an event that still resonates today. A powerful historical record of both heartbreak and resiliency that needs to be remembered.