School of Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews selected Barry's most recent book Titanic Sinks! as one of the best books of 2011.

 

Listen to Interviews with Barry on Titanic Sinks!:

Does hindsight obscure the story of the Titanic's doomed maiden voyage? How do you explain such a harrowing tragedy to young readers? What lessons can we learn from the sinking of the Titanic? We like stories that have heroes and villains. Who were the heroes and who were the villains on the Titanic? Check out Barry's interviews on Titanic Sinks! with WAMC Northeast Public Radio and Essential Public Radio to find out more.

Praise for Titanic Sinks!:

* “…Visually dramatic pages are filled with photos and memorabilia as well as eyewitness accounts that add to the ‘You are there’ effect…. This is a story of heroism as well as personal and corporate greed, issues that still resonate today. The text is lively, compelling and convincing, but written to answer 21st-century readers’ questions. Because readers know the outcome, many of the chosen quotations sound ironic, especially cheerful reiterations that the ship is unsinkable. This is history at its best, an original and appealing way to mark the centennial of this familiar disaster.” — * Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review, Featured on Kirkus's Best Books of 2011

* “Like the author’s celebrated Lincoln Shot!: A President’s Life Remembered (2008), this fact/fiction hybrid invents a newspaper (here called Modern Times) and proceeds as if the book is a Special Edition collecting the paper’s coverage of the construction, launch, and sinking of the Titanic. Purists may balk, but the format provides excellent cover for Denenberg to relay reams of factual information, from the fascination surrounding the ship’s construction (“14,000 TO BUILD BEHMOTHS,” the headline shouts) to personality profiles to first-hand reports from survivors. The centerpiece is a fictional yet accurate manuscript written by Times reporter S. F. Vanni, who typed even as the ship was sinking, and then lashed the manuscript to his body before he died at sea. No, not every conceit is plausible, but it’s certainly rousing and plenty eerie. The larger-than-usual format allows for readers to be awed by the same thing that awed onlookers in 1912: the gigantic size of everything—the swooping staircases, the dining room, the warehouses where they built the engines. The photos are breathtaking (a picture of the iceberg induces shivers) and full-color inserts reproduce menus, orchestra schedules, etc….” — * Booklist, Starred Review

* “...Denenberg writes that his goal is 'to make history come alive, to create a sense of being there.' He succeeds entirely in this gripping recounting of the Titanic’s doomed maiden voyage, chronicled in the tabloid-style pages of a fictional magazine…. Melding fact and fiction, the book compiles dramatic headlines, articles that range from news bulletins about the building of the ship to a chatty tour of its lavish interior, and an array of stunning period photographs…. [It’s] a polished and engaging account of one of the 20th century's most infamous disasters.” — * Publishers Weekly, Starred Review (Why a faux magazine format? Were facts & anecdotes about the Titanic's passengers a priority? What exactly went into Titanic Sinks!? Take a look at PW's recently released Q & A on Titanic Sinks! for some answers & a small "tour of the engine room.")

* “Denenberg brings the story of the Titanic to life in a way that it both informative and accessible…. Readers with little more than a passing knowledge of the Titanic will find this an excellent introduction to the topic, and those possessing more facts will find plenty of meat in the details to keep them engaged. Librarians looking to update their collections on the Titanic as the 100th anniversary approaches will find this to be an interesting and unique addition.” — * School Library Journal, Starred Review, Selected as one of School Library Journal's Best Books of 2011

Author’s Note:


ONCE WHEN I WAS EIGHT my grandparents took me to one of my favorite places: the library. That particular weekend I chose Bruce Catton’s book A Stillness at Appomattox and began to read it as soon as we got back to my grandparents’ Brooklyn apartment. I remember that book as if I read it yesterday. At times I felt truly transported, as if I was there with Generals Grant and Lee.

Fast forward to the present—now I write books on subjects like the Civil War. But times have changed. We no longer process information the way we did just a short time ago. Not remotely. The array of information tools we have access to is dazzling. Our factoid, sound bite–oriented news comes from bulletins, blogs and crawls that creep across room-sized flat screens that feature hi-def and 3-D. “D” as in dimensions, like depth. To get information about difficult and complex concepts, we Google, download and scan or listen to podcasts. This technologically driven paradigm shift is at once a challenge and an opportunity for an author, especially an author of books for young readers.

Confronting and considering it, I was inspired to conceive Titanic Sinks!’s bold, unconventional and multifaceted approach to the tragedy. My objective is to remove the distorting curtain of time and eliminate the dubious benefits of hindsight to make history come alive—to create a sense of being there.

The Modern Times magazine format allows me to present a great deal of information in a variety of visually dramatic ways: headlines, subheads, articles (all meticulously researched and written by me), first person accounts (the “In the Lifeboats” section is composed entirely of the testimonies of actual survivors), photographs, ads, posters, statistics, menus and memorabilia.

For an intimate perspective on the critical events from April 10th to 15th, I allowed the fictional chief correspondent of Modern Times, S. F. Vanni, to accompany the great ship on her maiden voyage. All information, and indeed all observations and conversations, in this section are scrupulously based on extensive research. Only Vanni is invented. Unlike the authors of virtually all other books on the subject, I decided to use photographs of the Titanic exclusively. There are no photographs of her nearly identical sister ship, the Olympic, in Titanic Sinks! The Titanic, of course, was not around long enough to be photographed extensively. She was built, launched and sank before anyone had time to take many pictures. It was tempting to use the many photographs of the Olympic, especially those of her interior. However, I felt that would detract from the historically accurate and eerie tone I was trying to create.

SURVIVOR JOHN THAYER came to believe that the Titanic’s sinking was “The event which not only made the world rub its eyes and awake, but woke it with a start.” Surely, it’s an “event” that poses many questions—none more important than this one: Does something that happened so long ago have any meaning, now that the world is so vastly different? I agree with acclaimed filmmaker James Cameron, director of the award-winning epic movie Titanic, who suggests “that basic human nature was the same in 1912…. Cover-up, lies, corporate denial of guilt or responsibility, these are not new concepts.”

In 1912 many believed that the Titanic’s fate was the result of man’s folly. He had greatly exaggerated his power and come to worship all things technological. Technology would solve all of society’s ills. A century later, in 2011, that blind faith in technology sounds eerily familiar. Perhaps Titanic Sinks! will serve as a timely reminder that man’s penchant for arrogance and power must always be balanced by humility and perspective. For, as Bob Dylan warns:

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn.
And everybody’s shouting
“Which side are you on?”

bda@barrydenenberg.com
151 Hook Road Bedford, NY 10506
© 2011 Barry Denenberg. All rights reserved.