Friday, August 31, 2012

Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917

by Sally M. Walker
Henry Holt | 2011

As I mentioned in my post here, I am a big fan of disaster stories. And I'd read about this one before as there are a number of adult titles about the explosion. This book, written for middle-grade and young adult readers, is a spectacular telling of how the incident occurred, how many folks were affected, and what it meant for Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the northeastern seaboard of the United States.

Beginning with a chart of the families featured in the book overlayed on top of a map of Halifax;  a "Note to the Reader;" and an quote from David McCullough, that great nonfiction writer, the book carefully sets the stage to tell the story of this Canadian city on a hill. Back matter includes source notes, a selected bibliography, and an index. Historical photos and maps are presented throughout.

What, you may be asking, was the Halifax Explosion? During World War I, two ships were in Halifax Harbor, which is long and skinny with little islands dotting it, making it a bit hard to navigate. One ship rammed the other, and it blew up. As the book's flap copy succinctly puts it: "The blast flattened large areas of Halifax and the town across the harbor, Dartmouth. It killed nearly 2000 people."

Boston responded, sending doctors and nurses north on the train to help with the aftermath. And the people of Halifax was more prepared than they might've been for a disaster, because they'd just responded in force to the sinking of the Titanic only five years earlier. But families were devastated and the rebuilding of Halifax took years.

Each year to this day, the people of Nova Scotia select a giant tree, cut it down, and ship it south to Boston--a gift and thank you from one place to another. The tree is put up in downtown Boston and decorated for the holidays. A reminder of how we (I say we since I'm a Bostonian through and through) helped them during that terrible time.

Have a look at a piece of history you may never have heard about before. I promise it's fascinating. Disasters and our reactions to them usually are!

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