Monday, March 26, 2012

Surviving the Hindenburg - a review

Verstraete, Larry. 2012. Surviving the Hindenburg. Ill. by Dave Geister.  Farmington Hills, MI: Sleeping Bear Press.


Many historical nonfiction books for kids naturally feature adults - as they are often the makers of history. Authors sometimes choose to highlight the childhood stories of important historical figures to make the topic more interesting to children, e.g., Oprah: The Little Speaker, Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in Brooklyn. Of course, a popular topic (dinosaurs) or person helps too.

Like the sinking of the Titanic (to which the Hindenburg was close in length), the Hindenburg disaster is a continuing source of interest for readers - particularly in my area of New Jersey. 

In Surviving the Hindenburg, Larry Verstraete has the gift of a perfect combination – a young protagonist and a history-making event – the horrific fire aboard the Hindenburg.

Fourteen-year-old Werner Franz was a German cabin boy aboard the Hindenburg on May 6, 1937, when it burned and crashed in Lakehurst, NJ. As the title indicates, Werner was one of the 62 survivors. Surviving the Hindenburg is his story.

This is a compelling account using easily-read, bold- font text opposite full-page or double-spread oil paintings. Scenes of the blimp's inner gangways add understanding of the ship’s inner workings, while views from the ground give context to the blimp’s immense size. The fiery scenes are powerfully gripping.

It appears that the quoted dialogue is taken from verifiable sources,
     “After a while, it came to me,” he said.“I lost my nerve. I cried and wailed like a baby. I didn’t know what to do.”
     Some men approached Werner.They thought he was a visitor, there to watch the landing.
     “They shook me to my senses,” Werner said. ‘Get a hold of yourself and try to help someone,’ they told me. But there was no one left to help.”
     In German, Wener tried to tell them who he was. “Ich bin der cabin-boy vom Hindenburg!” he said over and over,
however, no source notes are included in this otherwise stellar historical account. (A note in the Acknowledgements does cite Hindenburg authority, Patrick Russell, for ensuring accuracy)

A foreword and afterword offer a broader look at the disaster, including the interesting note that Werner Franz is the “last surviving member of the Hindenburg crew.”

The 75th anniversary of the Hindenburg will be marked this year on May 5th and 6th. Details, photos and more may be found at the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society site.

Interestingly, the Navy recently launched a new airship,  also located at the Lakehurst base, which is now Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.  However, after only about one year, the ship is due to be "mothballed" at Hangar 1 in Lakehurst.  A story and video of the airship appear here.  I have seen this behemoth fly over my home.  It's hard to imagine that airships were once used as luxury, transatlantic transportation!

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Anastasia Suen's Booktalking.

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