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Sunday, February 23, 2020

Nonfiction Review: TORPEDOED: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of the Children's Ship

It is hard to believe that stories about the horrors of WWII are still emerging, but here we are:  TORPEDOED: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of the Children's Ship. In 1940, as German bombs were exploding over London and other cities in Great Britain, parents were desperate to get their children out of harms way. A government program called the Children's Overseas Reception Board (CORB) worked with parents to transport children aged from five to fifteen to Canada. There was a long waiting list to secure a spot on ships leaving Liverpool. The parents considered themselves lucky to have their children leave Great Britain for safe Canada.

In September 1940, a passenger liner SS City of Benares set sail with 406 people on board. 100 of them were children, 90 of them CORB children with adult escorts. On September 17th, not long after the British Royal Navy warship, which had been escorting the Benares, a German U-Boat submarine shot a torpedo at the passenger ship. So began a struggle for survival that would ultimately kill 258 people. Of the CORB children only thirteen of them survived. In TORPEDOED author Deborah Heiliegman tells the survival and fatal stories of many of the CORB children and their escorts. Several heroes emerge out of the tragedy.

Heiligman has made a name for herself as a YA nonfiction writer. Two of her previous books, Charles and Emma (2009 ) was a National Book Award finalist and Vincent and Theo (2017) was a YALSA Nonfiction Award winner. It also won a Printz Honor and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. Her writing is clear and concise, very accessible for teen readers.

What I liked about the book:
  • I always like reading books where I learn something new. I had never heard of the Children's ship sinking before. As horrifying as the details were, it was still interesting to learn about.
  • The writing was clear and concise with short paragraphs.
  • The last chapter honors those who died by listing all of the passengers/crew members names who died and are now in a watery grave.
  • It also gives a short bio of several of the survivors, many were interviewed by Heiligman, for first hand material.
  • A selected bibliography and end notes would be helpful tools for student researchers.
What I didn't like about the book:
  • Heiligman overuses several repetitive phrases. They started to annoy me.
  • Black and white illustrations of the children aboard the ship after it was torpedoed but before it sunk were supposed to show the confusion and action, but they were not well-drawn and actually detracted from the story, in my opinion.
  • I can't tell who the target audience is. I'd say by the illustrations and short paragraphing the book would appeal to younger teens in middle or junior high school or older elementary students.


  1. What were the annoying phrases? I've never heard of that ship either!

    1. I can't remember the phrases now, but they were just little cliches repeated over and over.

    2. Also, repeating information already given, like "the children were excited and ran around the ship." Nothing irritating until it is said five time.

  2. I read this one with my ears and was disappointed when I skimmed the book to find those illustrations. I agree. They add nothing to the book.

  3. I didn't know about this incident either! It makes me think of the Ruta Sepetys book Salt to the Sea, which was so good.


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