Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing
Publication date: 8/1/2013
A smart publisher will go to extremes to nudge young readers who might otherwise pass on a highly worthwhile read in historical fiction. Open with a book cover of bright yellow block letters and deft use of the words hurricane and horrors set against a jarring image of weather devastation. And a well-written story based on firsthand accounts might merit a second glance from boys ages 9-12.
Charlesbridge Publishing and T. Neill Anderson deliver with City of the Dead: Galveston Hurricane, 1900. A Junior Library Guild Selection, the book’s dramatic narrative is based on the deadliest natural disaster in the history of the United States.
The author relied on records of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word as well as details of interviews, oral histories and letters to write the story of the Great Storm’s survivors.
Anderson writes of a time with no weather forecasting or hurricane evacuation routes. On that September evening in 1900, Albert Campbell played with other boys in the rising puddles of water, Daisy Thorne read a book of poems from her fiancé and Sam Young wrote a telegram warning his family in San Antonio to stay on the mainland until the storm passed.
Inhabitants of the thriving port city of Galveston could not have foreseen the impending destruction from the storm’s 125-mile-per-hour winds and monster tidal surge. About one in six Galvestonians would perish.
“Sam sat upstairs in an armchair, eyes closed, listening to the storm roar outside. The wind was full of noises he’d never heard before—the sounds of the planet rearranging, turning itself inside out.”
“This is chaos, Sam thought. The laws of the universe had been overturned. Trees flew through the air. Houses sank like ships. The Gulf of Mexico had invaded his living room. Soon it would climb the stairs.”
Overlooking the island’s dunes, the double buildings of St. Mary’s Orphanage collapsed, while tents stationed at Fort Crocket were washed out to the Gulf. As the waters flooded ashore, survivors used whatever they could find to float to safety: large pieces of timber, unhinged doors, sofa cushions.
Anderson tapped his imagination to fill in fictionalized details where survivor accounts left blanks in the narrative. He writes that the only accounts of St. Mary’s Orphanage come from three young survivors, Albert Campbell, William Murney and Frank Madera, who provided only brief recollections to news reporters. The resulting book contains plausible conversations and complete scenes that might have taken place during the hurricane’s terrifying onslaught.
City of the Dead by T. Neill Anderson is a highly worthwhile read in historical fiction for children based on the devastating hurricane that struck Galveston in 1900.
Category: Historical Fiction for Children