Monday, November 04, 2019

MMGM- Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of "The Children's Ship"

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Heiligman, Deborah. Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of "The Children's Ship"
October 8th 2019 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

World War II was very hard on many London families, and the opportunity provided by the Children's Overseas Reception Board was a blessing to families like the Grimmonds. There were ten children in the family, and after several nights of bombing, the family home was destroyed. Five of the younger children had been accepted into the program, and were sent off to Liverpool to board the ship even though all of their luggage had been destroyed. They ended up on the City of Benares with other children like themselves, but also with a number of paying passengers as well as a crew of English and Indian Lascar sailors. There were also a number of educators, religious workers and other adults acting as chaperones. At first, it was a grand adventure, leaving the city and heading to sea. The ship was fairly luxurious, and the war-starved children enjoyed good food for the first time in a while, especially the ice cream. However, when the convoy in which the boat was sailing disbanded, the City of Benares was targeted by a German U Boat whose captain did not realize there were children aboard. The ship took a direct hit on a cold and stormy night, and tragedy ensued. Many were killed on impact, and those who managed to get to life boats either had trouble boarding them, or were not properly dressed for the cold. Many perished right away, but many lingered before rescue ships arrived. While there were a number of rafts rescued, raft 12 was missed. Mary Cornish, a teacher, strove bravely to keep her young charges alive for eight days on the open sea before they were finally found. This nonfiction work follows many of the passengers, detailing their experiences as well as their deaths, telling a bit about those who managed to survive.
Strengths: The research on this is very complete, and I appreciated that Heiligman even tried to hunt down relatives of the Indian Lascar sailors, even though she wasn't able to find any information. It's hard for US students to understand how difficult WWII was for the British and other Europeans (as well as Pacific Islanders in that theater), and this certainly paints a grim picture. The accounts of individuals, though, makes this a very personal story. Heartbreakingly detailed, with moments of hope when some of the children survived, this is certainly a WWII story with which I was unfamiliar.
Weaknesses: There are a lot of characters, so this can be a bit hard to follow. Also, I'm not sure what the final pictures and photographs will be like, but I wish there were more photographs. They probably just don't exist.
What I really think: This was so intriguing that I will have to purchase a copy, and I will hand it to the students who are still oddly interested in the Titanic!

For more on the red life jacket that started the research on this book, check out this article!


  1. I've read a little bit about this in the past, am glad to see a book about it, thought heartbreaking. I've had students in the past who are fascinated by WW II history. Thanks, Karen!

  2. It would be very interesting to pair this with Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood. Lifeboat 12 is a Novel in Verse about this same boat.

  3. I am looking forward to reading Torpedoed and I wonder how it compares to Torpedoed!: A World War II Story of a Sinking Passenger Ship and Two Children's Survival at Sea by Cheryl Mullenbach. The titles seem so similar and now I'll have to look at them both. Thanks for sharing, Karen! Now I'm off to read your linked article...

  4. This looks very interesting. Thanks for your review. I'm intrigued by the red life jacket.

  5. This sounds like a terrifying yet fascinating story! It's unnerving to think that such a thing actually happened, but it's also neat that an author went to such great lengths to record it and make it accessible for children to read about. Thanks so much for the review!

  6. Wow. I have never heard of this. I am continually amazed about what I learn from fellow MMGM posts.

  7. I've been trying to get around to this book for a while now, but life keeps getting in my way, so thanks for your review to inspire me and also for the article about the red life jacket.

  8. Wow! I knew many children crossed the ocean to safety, but had no idea they were attacked.

  9. This sounds like a terrific book. Thanks for the heads up.