Underground Fire: Hope, Sacrifice, and Courage in the Cherry Mine Disaster

Candlewick. Oct. 2022. 224p. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781536212402.
Gr 5 Up–When the miners and managers of the coal mine in Cherry, IL, blatantly underestimate the danger of a small underground fire, a horrific eight-day chain of events occurs that results in death of 259 men and boys. The stage is set on the morning of November 13, 1909, as the coal miners and their families begin a typical workday. First-person accounts set the scene as Walker, who lives near the disaster site, recounts the details, alternating between the belowground mismanagement and the resulting aboveground reactions. Technical descriptions of the mining process, explanations of the social construct of the time period, accounts of economic hardships faced by the workers, and references to cultural diversity add compelling historic reference points. An uncanny comparison between the farewell notes written to family members by trapped miners and contemporary “I love you” cellphone messages made by people facing life-threatening situations connects the past to the present. The book concludes with information about the disaster’s survivors, historical remembrances, updates on mine safety legislation, and the reopening and subsequent closing of the Cherry Mine. The narrative is enriched with numerous photographs, maps, diagrams, and primary source documents. Back matter includes an author’s note, image credits, bibliography, and a detailed index.
VERDICT This examination of a man-made disaster works well as a historical recount, harrowing survival story, and social commentary. A very strong addition to nonfiction collections.

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