February 21, 2018

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The Titanic: Unsinkable | Focus On

SLJ1204w_FT_FO_Titanic(Original Import)

April 2012 marks the centennial of the sinking of the Titanic off the coast of Newfoundland. Even after 100 years, the disastrous loss of the White Star Line’s premier ship continues to fascinate. Over the course of 10 decades, the calamity has inspired a Broadway show, multiple books, and several movies, including the 1997 blockbuster film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, which will be rereleased in 3D for the anniversary. But why do students remain interested?

Dr. Robert D. Ballard, the president of the Sea Research Foundation’s Institute for Exploration in Mystic, CT, found the Titanic on the seafloor in 1985. In an interview on immersionlearning.org, a website devoted to ocean-science education, Ballard says, “To children, it’s the stuff of legend—heroes, villains and above all adventure.” Commenting on the vessel’s enduring appeal when he returned to it in 2004, Ballard adds, “Everyone can relate to someone’s story from the ship,” and he mentions plucky survivor Molly Brown and brave Ida Straus, who left her lifeboat to join her husband as the ship sank.

Ballard’s view is validated by fifth-grade students in Shawna Wisnioski’s class at West Hill School in Rocky Hill, CT. One sums it up, “I like it because it was the biggest ship and it wasn’t supposed to sink, but it did.” The Titanic spurs curiosity about how the touted ocean liner was built, the people who strode its decks, and the details of what happened after it struck a North Atlantic iceberg.

Questions remain about every aspect of the demise of this “unsinkable” ship. Today there’s controversy about whether the wreckage deep in the sea should be salvaged or left as a sacred burial site, fueling the desire to learn and speculate about it. Given the storied ship’s broad appeal, fiction and nonfiction materials listed in this collection of new and venerable titles span all grades.

Elementary Grades


CRISP, Marty. Titanicat. illus. by Robert Papp. Sleeping Bear. 2008. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-1-58536-355-1.
K-Gr 4–A Belfast boy signs on to care for the ship’s cat as the Titanic sails to America. During the preparatory trials, he diligently looks after the feline mother and her kittens, but when the cat abandons ship with her young in Southampton, he follows. Large single- and two-page paintings portray the boy’s lucky choice with hushed beauty.

GUNDERSON, Jessica. Your Life as a Cabin Attendant on the Titanic. (The Way It Was Series.) illus. by Rachel Dougherty. Picture Window. 2012. PLB $25.99. ISBN 978-1-4048-7158-8; pap. $7.95. ISBN 978-1-4048-7248-6.
Gr 3-5–This Upstairs Downstairs approach follows an imagined female cabin attendant while revealing that most of the crew never got their final wages and that few were women because they were considered bad luck. Occasionally exaggerated cartoon images are interspersed with facts and humorous observations.

LASSIEUR, Allison. Can You Survive the Titanic?: An Interactive Survival Adventure. (You Choose: Survival Series). Capstone. 2011. PLB $30.65. ISBN 978-1-4296-6586-5; pap. $6.95. ISBN 978-1-4296-7351-8.
Gr 3-5–Through the eyes of the ship’s assistant surgeon, a governess from the upper crust, and a 12-year-old boy from third class, readers follow multiple post-collision actions that save or cost lives. Short, specific sections move to final, sometimes sad, resolutions. A chapter relating the book’s true-life basis and a few photos widen the appeal.


BENOIT, Peter. The Titanic Disaster. (A True Book: Disasters Series). Children’s Press. 2011. PLB $28. ISBN 978-0-531-20627-0; pap. $6.95. ISBN 978-0-531-28996-9.
Gr 3-5–Intriguing text and excellent photos and illustrations chronicle the historic tragedy, from the ship’s launch to post-disaster reports. The book includes a brief discussion of the shipwreck’s discovery by Dr. Ballard as well as concerns about recent negative effects of tourism at the site.

BREWSTER, Hugh. Inside the Titanic. illus. by Ken Marschall. Little, Brown. 1997. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-1-864-48382-6.
Gr 1-5–Like the ship they represent, giant color spreads, many with detailed cutaway views, showcase the basics of the voyage and the rescue, as experienced by two real-life families, one in first class and another in third. Small black-and-white photos of travelers, workers, and artifacts are interspersed. Visually valuable for older students as well.

BROWN, Don. All Stations! Distress! April 15, 1912: The Day the Titanic Sank. illus. by author. Roaring Brook. 2008. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-222-2; pap. $7.99. ISBN 978-1-596-43222-2
Gr 3-5–Brown opens his riveting narrative with information about the Belfast shipyard where the Titanic was built and the Southampton harbor from which it launched. Carefully selected quotes, soft-edged watercolor illustrations, and captivating descriptions detail the ship’s dramatic final hours.

DONNELLY, Judy. Titanic: Lost…and Found. illus. by Keith Kohler. Random. 1987. pap. $3.99. ISBN 978-0-394-88669-5; ebook $3.99. ISBN 978-0-307-56067-4.
Gr 2-4–Incorporating a mix of drama and information well suited for reading aloud, Donnelly relates the facts with a storyteller’s flair as her easy-reader text begins at the launch, moves to the collision, and concludes with the modern exploration of the ship’s wreckage. Softly toned illustrations complement the account.

DUBOWSKI, Mark. Titanic: The Disaster That Shocked the World. DK. 1998. Reprinted 2012. Tr $14.99. ISBN 978-0-7566-9083-0; pap. $3.99. ISBN 978-0-7566-9082-3.
Gr 1-3–Ticking off important events by day and time from launch to rescue, this easy reader reveals a kidnapping, explains how the ship sank, and generally keeps up the disaster intensity. Authentic black-and-white photos and labeled color illustrations, several with cutaway views, add valuable details in this well-designed book.

DUNN, Joe. The Titanic. illus. by Ben Dunn. ABDO/Magic Wagon. 2007. PLB $28.50. ISBN 978-1-602-70079-6.
Gr 3-5–Organized in short chapters, the book describes the ship’s voyage in easy-to-follow fact boxes and related dialogue, both factual and imagined. Clean, uncomplicated color artwork matches the graphic-novel presentation. Likely to encourage reluctant readers.

LORBIECKI, Marybeth. Escaping Titanic: A Young Girl’s True Story of Survival. illus. by Korey S. Heinzen. Picture Window. 2012. PLB $26.65. ISBN 978-1-4048-7143-4; pap. $8.95. ISBN 978-1-4048-7235-6.
Gr 3-5–On her way home from India with her mother and two younger siblings, preteen Ruth Becker boarded the Titanic. Separated from her family, she was the last one on lifeboat 13. Ominous, dark paintings add to the drama of this short, fact-based story that conveys the fear and confusion that one family experienced.

SHOULDERS, Debbie & Michael. T Is for Titanic: A Titanic Alphabet. illus. by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen. Sleeping Bear. 2011. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-1-58536-176-2.
Gr 1-5–From “A” for the anatomy of the ship to third-class passenger Zimmerman, these oversize, appealingly detailed single pages and spreads use short rhymes and brief but sophisticated explanations to depict aspects of the Titanic. An online teacher’s guide with downloadable activity sheets adds across-the-curriculum options.

SPEDDEN, Daisy Corning Stone. Polar, the Titanic Bear. Little, Brown. 2001. pap. $10.99. ISBN 978-0-316-80909-2.
Gr 2 Up–In 1913, an American heiress wrote this travel memoir told through the eyes of a toy bear. Sharing first-person details about her family, including her young son, she recounts their experiences. Family photos and painted illustrations add to the representation of a wealthy Edwardian lifestyle. A valuable background resource for older students.

STEWART, Melissa. Titanic. National Geographic. 2012. PLB $17.99. ISBN 978-1-426-31060-7; pap. $3.99. ISBN 978-1-426-31059-1.
Gr 2-4–A good introduction for younger readers, this overview opens with the discovery of the ship’s wreckage, then briefly delineates ship and voyage facts, history, personalities, tragic events, and first-person quotes with photos, drawings, and text balloons. Stewart also addresses concerns about the ship’s current status.

Middle Grades


BISKUP, Agnieszka. Exploring Titanic: An Isabel Soto History Adventure. illus. by Al Bigley and Bill Anderson. (Graphic Expeditions Series). Graphic Library. 2009. PLB $29.99. ISBN 978-1-4296-3410-6; pap. $7.95. ISBN 978-1-4296-3892-0.
Gr 3-8–Through bold images and a short, fact-based text, a time-traveling, female archaeologist brings a new twist to the Titanic story. Readers follow her as she interviews the ship’s creators and survivors. The book concludes with a description of improved safety measures instituted after 1912. A great choice for reluctant readers.

KORMAN , Gordon . Unsinkable. Bk. 1. ISBN 978-0-545-12331-0.
–––– . Collision Course . Bk. 2. ISBN 978-0-545-12332-7.
–––– . S.O.S. Bk. 3. ISBN 978-0-545-12333-4.
ea vol: (Titanic Series). Scholastic. 2011. pap. $5.99.
Gr 4-8–Four very different young people are sailing for America. Paddy, Alfie, Sophie, and Juliana are engaged in dangerous adventures long before an iceberg brings drama to everyone onboard. Date and time divide each title into short but lively chapters with vivid action and personalities both historical and fictional. Audio version available from Brilliance Audio.

LAWSON, Julie. Ghosts of the Titanic. Holiday House. 2012. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8234-2423-8.
Gr 4-7–A young seaman who plucked floating bodies from the debris is connected to a contemporary 12-year-old boy from Vancouver, British Columbia. Based on post-disaster records from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and told from both points of view, the title incorporates fact-finding with mystery-solving.

MONE, Gregory. Dangerous Waters: An Adventure on the Titanic. Roaring Brook. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-673-2; ebook $9.99; ISBN 978-1-42996-184-4.
Gr 5-8–Collector Harry Elkins Widener actually did sail on the Titanic with a rare edition of Francis Bacon essays. This fact is neatly woven into a carefully researched mystery/adventure that centers on a fictional 12-year-old steward drawn into danger even before the ship sinks. A helpful author’s note clarifies invented versus real characters.


Adams, Simon. Titanic. (Eyewitness Books Series). DK. 2009. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-756-65036-0.
Gr 3-8–Complemented by a bonus clip art CD and a poster with views of the ship, the information- and illustration-intensive two-page entries touch on the “Captain and crew,” “A deadly collision,” “End of an era,” and other related subjects. Perfect for an overview or for report topics.

BALLARD, Robert D. Exploring the Titanic: How the Greatest Ship Ever Lost Was Found. ed. by Patrick Crean. illus. by Ken Marschall. Scholastic. 1988. OP.
Gr 4 Up–In one of the best explanations of the technology and magic of discovering the ship’s watery resting place, historical background is amplified by underwater photos compared with illustrations of the 1912 vessel. Ballard’s passion and careful research prove fascinating for all age groups.

DENENBERG, Barry. Titanic Sinks!: Experience the Titanic’s Doomed Voyage in This Unique Presentation of Fact and Fiction. Viking. 2011. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-0-670-01243-5.
Gr 4 Up–Primary-source articles from the cleverly constructed but fictional magazine Modern Times delve into the Titanic’s construction, Captain Smith, and the voyage through an imagined correspondent’s journal and the real tales of survivors. Staff statistics, a dining menu, and the gymnasium schedule add valuable detail. Oversize, and with captivating photos, this title is ideal for reports and pleasure reading.

kentley, Eric. Story of the Titanic. illus. by Steve Noon. DK. Reprint ed. 2012. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-0-756-69171-4.
Gr 4-8–Generous spreads such as “Ship of Dreams,” “The Last Port of Call,” and 15 other topics follow the Titanic from Belfast and beyond the sinking to modern exploration. Minimal text adds key facts and connects nicely with this visual treasure trove of illustrations rich in details, cutaway views, and archival photos.

LANDAU, Elaine. Heroine of the Titanic: The Real Unsinkable Molly Brown. Clarion. 2001. Tr $19. ISBN 978-0-395-93912-3.
Gr 5-8–While Margaret Brown is remembered for her fortitude as a Titanic survivor, she also used her determination to stand up for others and to run as a candidate for Congress. Myths about her nickname are debunked. Brown’s direct quotes about the lifeboat and black-and-white photos from the period round out the portrait of this colorful persona.

MCPHERSON, Stephanie Sammartino. Iceberg, Right Ahead!: The Tragedy of the Titanic. 21st Century Bks. 2011. PLB $33.26. ISBN 978-0-7613-6756-7; ebook $24.95. ISBN 978-0-7613-8048-1.
Gr 4-8–Filled with fascinating details, this well-researched and well-written account opens with the ship’s fatal collision. Coverage of the crew, passengers, and rescuers makes absorbing reading for general interest or reports. Sidebars provide additional information, and black-and-white historical photos are useful for all age groups.

WILKINSON, Philip. Titanic: Disaster at Sea. Capstone. 2012. PLB $17.95. ISBN 978-1-4296-7527-7.
Gr 5-8–Complete with a four-page foldout of the ship inside and out, a stellar collection of images covering all aspects of the Titanic legacy is presented with brief explanatory text. The well-executed layout, bold photo endpapers, and embossed cover add visual appeal.

High School


GRAY, Claudia. Fateful. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. 2011. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-200620-2; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-204922-3.
Gr 9 Up–Tess, a young maid, is frustrated and ready to leave the wealthy family who’s brought her along on the Titanic. Soon romance and werewolves add to the danger of the iceberg-bound boat. Light on facts and heavy on fiction, this novel uses a diary format.

WEYN, Suzanne. Distant Waves: A Novel of the Titanic. Scholastic. 2009. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-08572-4; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-0-545-08584-7; ebook $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-23005-6.
Gr 8 Up–Jane wonders about the late-18th-century spiritualist world of her widowed mother and sisters but prefers the science of Nikola Tesla. At 16, she’s attracted to Tesla’s assistant, and all are aboard the Titanic where her real and clairvoyant worlds are about to collide. An author’s note separates fact from fiction.

WOLF, Allan. The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic. Candlewick. 2011. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-10-7636-3703-3.
Gr 8 Up–Emotionally charged fiction in verse depicts the lives of 25 passengers and crew. Based on facts and enhanced with primary sources, events on the voyage are fleshed out and imagined through diverse voices, including that of the looming iceberg. There’s powerful material for reader’s theater here. Audio version available from Brilliance Audio.


BARRATT, Nick. Lost Voices from the Titanic: The Definitive Oral History. Palgrave Macmillan. 2010. Tr $28. ISBN 978-0-230-62230-2.
Adult/High School–Major sections on the ship’s background, voyage, and aftermath of the disaster highlight passengers from upper and lower decks, as well as crew, rescuers, and those who retrieved the dead. Sometimes intimate, at other times official, the well-researched text includes letters, diaries, and primary documents. Useful for reports.

TURNER, Steve. The Band That Played On: The Extraordinary Story of the 8 Musicians Who Went Down with the Titanic. Thomas Nelson. 2011. Tr $24.99. ISBN 978-1-595-55219-8.
Adult/High School–Never a band before they were hired for this voyage, these men chose to comfort with music as the ship sank. Short, individual biographies provide insights into their courage and offer a bit about the era. Descriptions of the post-collision music and the finding of their bodies are enhanced with occasional, small black-and-white photos.

WARD, Greg. The Rough Guide to the Titanic. Rough Guides. 2012. pap. $14.99. ISBN 978-1-405-38699-9.
Adult/High School–This solid resource includes lists of books, movies, music, and websites. Details cover the shipyard, lifeboat launch, sinking, and rescue with chapters on investigations and new discoveries as well as one that deals with questions, controversies, and conspiracies. The book is compact but complete with valuable sidebars that touch on people, equipment, even pets.


For Students

Ocean Explorer: R.M.S. Titanic 2004 Expedition. oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/04titanic/welcome.html. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (Accessed 2/18/12).
Gr 4 Up–In 2004, Dr. Robert Ballard returned to the Titanic with scientists from NOAA “to study the ship’s rapid deterioration.” The exploration is documented here with links to additional explorations, photos, video, and lesson plans.

MarconiCalling. www.marconicalling.co.uk/introsting.htm. Marconi plc. (Accessed 2/18/12).
Gr 4 Up–Click the search button on this interactive site maintained by the Marconi company to access “Titanic Messages.” Ice warnings and survivor reports, “original Marconigrams that were sent before, during, and after the time of the tragic sinking of the Titanic,” are presented along with images of the original documents.

Titanic Inquiry Project. titanicinquiry.org. Titanic Inquiry Project. (Accessed 2/18/12).
Gr 8 Up–Dedicated researchers have completely transcribed both U.S. and British inquiries into the sinking of the Titanic, complete with individual testimonies. Other sections include “Limitations of Liability Hearings,” with links to depositions from surviving passengers and crew members.

For Teachers

Encyclopedia Titanica. www.encyclopedia-titanica.org. Encyclopedia Titanica. (Accessed 2/18/12).
Cross-referenced and hyperlinked lists lead to brief biographies of survivors and casualties of the disaster. Articles, deck plans, photos, and a message board widen the range of detailed information. Heavy with advertisements, this site is better suited for teachers and older students.

Online Titanic Museum. onlinetitanicmuseum.com. Online Titanic Museum. (Accessed 2/18/12).
Set up as four themed exhibitions, including “The Unsinkable Titanic” and Disaster Strikes,” collected images with brief explanations range from the ship’s coal to a White Star Line teaspoon.

Worksheets – Titanic. www.historyonthenet.com/Lessons/worksheets/titanic.htm. Historyonthenet. (Accessed 2/18/12).
Downloadable crosswords, word searches, an essay outline activity, two-page information sheets on a variety of related topics, and a time line activity support basic lessons on the Titanic.

Barbara Wysocki is the retired codirector of Children’s Services at the Cora J. Belden Library in Rocky Hill, CT.

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