The much publicized centenary of the world’s most famous shipwreck has introduced a new generation to the story, and among books published in this year of all things Titanic are two unique titles geared to educating young people about the maritime disaster. Children of the Titanic (Nimbus, $14.95) by Christine Welldon and The Titanic Sticker Book (Usborne, $11.95) by Megan Cullis and Emily Bone are well-written, beautifully produced chronicles that manage to be historically accurate without being too complicated for the beginning reader.
Children of the Titanic is the latest achievement of one of Canada’s top children’s book writers. Christine Welldon, a journalist noted for her work for Omni and the Globe & Mail, is the author of the well-received Children of Africville. Her new book, released by Nimbus Publishing, is a well-researched account of the Titanic and its brief life, told from the perspective of three fictional children. Beth, travelling in steerage with her aunt, is six years old. Eleven year old Master John is with his wealthy family in “first cabin.” And in second class is Charlotte, age 8, en route with her parents. Despite novelized scenarios surrounding the main characters, the author commendably weaves them between the facts of the great liner, of the era it has come to represent, and of the tragedy that helped bring that era to a close. In addition to its six chapters, the 92-page book features a glossary, numerous photos, charts, maps and sidebars. For readers just learning about the Titanic the images, while familiar to connoisseurs of liner history, are well-chosen to illustrate the ship and its people. From the boiler room to the lavish accommodations of the elite, the narrative explores the vessel on a timeline leading to the fateful rendezvous with ice and the catastrophic result. Real-life passengers and crew dot the story, including the Titanic’s commander-in-chief, Captain E.J. Smith; millionaire John Jacob Astor and his bride Madeleine; the dress designer Lady Duff Gordon; and the ship’s radio operator Jack Phillips. The adventures of the youthful protagonists, as they revel in the excitement of the ocean voyage, and their experiences during the sinking of the Titanic are compellingly entwined with known facts about the ship and the harrowing events that marked its loss.
Usborne Publishing commemorates the 100th anniversary of the disaster with a superbly printed and creatively arranged, kid-friendly pictorial, The Titanic Sticker Book. The 32-page narrative section is supplemented by ten pages of high-quality photos and illustrations mounted on easy-peel sticky paper for placement within the main text. The fun quotient of this book is matched by the authors’ dedication to historical research. From details about the ship’s construction to facts about the culture of the Edwardian period, the book offers a fine introductory appraisal of the Titanic and its time. Along with clever artwork by Ian McNee, The Titanic Sticker Book boasts a selection of over 100 archival images, including a seldom seen three-quarter portrait of Captain Smith in his summer white uniform and some rare contemporary White Star Line advertisements. Carefully drafted diagrams rival exquisite, full color images of surviving artifacts such as dinner plates, playing cards and menus. There are also photos of such unexpected subjects as the embroidered boudoir slippers that fashion reporter Edith Russell wore when she escaped the ship in a lifeboat. Bequeathed to historian Walter Lord, they are now preserved by the National Maritime Museum. Other passengers who are excellently, if briefly, profiled include Margaret “Molly” Brown; Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon; five year old Lillian Asplund; the so-called “Titanic Orphans” (Michel and Edmond Navratil); and Benjamin Guggenheim, although one questions the appropriateness of mentioning that he was traveling with a mistress. Chapters range from “The Golden Age of Travel,” in which the Titanic and White Star are placed within a broader overview of liner history, to “Discovering the Wreck,” spotlighting the undersea expeditions that have documented the Titanic’s final resting place over the last 30 years.