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Torpedoed!: A World War II Story of a Sinking Passenger Ship and Two Children's Survival at Sea

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A Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People 2018 When 14-year-old Florence Kelly and 11-year-old Russell Park left their hometowns for summer vacations in Europe in 1939, they considered themselves awfully lucky. Many of their friends’ families were struggling during the Great Depression and couldn’t afford fancy trips. But the young pair would soon face life-thre A Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People 2018 When 14-year-old Florence Kelly and 11-year-old Russell Park left their hometowns for summer vacations in Europe in 1939, they considered themselves awfully lucky. Many of their friends’ families were struggling during the Great Depression and couldn’t afford fancy trips. But the young pair would soon face life-threatening troubles of their own as it became clear German dictator Adolf Hitler was intent on invading neighboring countries. With tensions high, Florence, Russell, and their families cut their holidays short as many Americans scrambled to book passage back to the States. Safely aboard the luxurious passenger liner the S.S. Athenia, travelers settled in and breathed a sigh of relief. Surely, it was believed, the sleek, menacing German U-boats lurking in the Atlantic Ocean would never attack a passenger ship . . . would they?   Torpedoed! vividly re-creates the events surrounding the attack on the Athenia, the first ship lost in the battle of the Atlantic. Through firsthand accounts, interviews with survivors, and powerful photos, award-winning author Cheryl Mullenbach brings to life the prewar environment in America and Europe, the anxious days leading up to the surprise attack, the frantic rush to escape the sinking ship, and the long, terrifying night that Russell, Florence, and others spent in churning lifeboats battling the elements and imagining the worst.  At once a gripping adventure story and a rich resource for history lovers, Torpedoed! provides page-turning thrills and inspiring real-life examples of courage and resourcefulness in the toughest of circumstances.


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A Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People 2018 When 14-year-old Florence Kelly and 11-year-old Russell Park left their hometowns for summer vacations in Europe in 1939, they considered themselves awfully lucky. Many of their friends’ families were struggling during the Great Depression and couldn’t afford fancy trips. But the young pair would soon face life-thre A Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People 2018 When 14-year-old Florence Kelly and 11-year-old Russell Park left their hometowns for summer vacations in Europe in 1939, they considered themselves awfully lucky. Many of their friends’ families were struggling during the Great Depression and couldn’t afford fancy trips. But the young pair would soon face life-threatening troubles of their own as it became clear German dictator Adolf Hitler was intent on invading neighboring countries. With tensions high, Florence, Russell, and their families cut their holidays short as many Americans scrambled to book passage back to the States. Safely aboard the luxurious passenger liner the S.S. Athenia, travelers settled in and breathed a sigh of relief. Surely, it was believed, the sleek, menacing German U-boats lurking in the Atlantic Ocean would never attack a passenger ship . . . would they?   Torpedoed! vividly re-creates the events surrounding the attack on the Athenia, the first ship lost in the battle of the Atlantic. Through firsthand accounts, interviews with survivors, and powerful photos, award-winning author Cheryl Mullenbach brings to life the prewar environment in America and Europe, the anxious days leading up to the surprise attack, the frantic rush to escape the sinking ship, and the long, terrifying night that Russell, Florence, and others spent in churning lifeboats battling the elements and imagining the worst.  At once a gripping adventure story and a rich resource for history lovers, Torpedoed! provides page-turning thrills and inspiring real-life examples of courage and resourcefulness in the toughest of circumstances.

30 review for Torpedoed!: A World War II Story of a Sinking Passenger Ship and Two Children's Survival at Sea

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Thank you to Kid Lit Exchange for access to a free review copy of this book. All opinions are my own. This is a decent nonfiction text about the sinking of the SS Athenia in 1939. The author provides lots of historical background about the dawn of WWII, complete with photographs and stories of real life passengers. It focuses on Russell (age 11) from Philadelphia, and Florence (age 14) from Cleveland. Following these characters is a nice way to introduce the historical events and make the informa Thank you to Kid Lit Exchange for access to a free review copy of this book. All opinions are my own. This is a decent nonfiction text about the sinking of the SS Athenia in 1939. The author provides lots of historical background about the dawn of WWII, complete with photographs and stories of real life passengers. It focuses on Russell (age 11) from Philadelphia, and Florence (age 14) from Cleveland. Following these characters is a nice way to introduce the historical events and make the information more relatable to the intended audience. However, while it is targeted to 4th-6th graders, this book is kind of stuck between children’s book and middle grade, and between historical fiction and nonfiction.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Alex Baugh

    When we think of ships being torpedoed in the Atlantic Ocean during WWII, we generally think of warships being sunk by Nazi submarines, or U-boats. In fact, the first ship sunk after England declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939 was a British passenger ship, the S.S. Athenia, attacked less then 10 hours later. Mullenbach introduces her readers to the events that led to the sinking of the Athenia and the aftermath mainly through the experiences of two teens who were on the ship and survived When we think of ships being torpedoed in the Atlantic Ocean during WWII, we generally think of warships being sunk by Nazi submarines, or U-boats. In fact, the first ship sunk after England declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939 was a British passenger ship, the S.S. Athenia, attacked less then 10 hours later. Mullenbach introduces her readers to the events that led to the sinking of the Athenia and the aftermath mainly through the experiences of two teens who were on the ship and survived. Russell Park, 11, lived in Philadelphia but was already an experienced traveler, who loved history and was fascinated by how things worked. Florence Kelly, 14, lived in Cleveland, loved big band music and going to the movies with her best friend on Saturdays. They were “…two ordinary American kids who weren’t thinking about the frightening actions of world leaders…” (pg 8) as they prepared for their European vacations in May 1939. And though their summer vacations were cut short by world events, they had been wonderful. But, when Hitler invaded Poland on September 1,1939, Americans in Europe scrambled to book passage, hoping to return home before war began. Through a combination of circumstances, Russell, along with his parents, and Florence and her mother ended up on the same ship sailing home. Both Russell and Florence were looking forward to returning home to family, friends, and the new school year. There were 1,102 passengers and 316 crew on board the Athenia when the ship began her journey across the Atlantic Ocean. At the same time, a German U-boat was also in the Atlantic, commanded by Oberleutnant Fritz Julius Lempe, and searching for ships carrying troops and war materials, which is what he supposedly thought the Athenia was doing when he gave the order to torpedo it. Mullenbach covers a lot of ground in Torpedoed! Placing Florence and Russell at the center of events, she manages to fit in a lot of historical information about what was happening in prewar Europe, as well as giving readers an up-close and personal account of the harrowing sinking and rescue of the Athenia’s survivors (128 people did not survive). She even follows up with information about the commander who mistakenly (?) bombed the Athenia. Mullenbach carefully crafts a detailed narrative of this ill-fated journey that is both gripping and so terrifying at times and completely accessible for young readers. And ironically, while their paths crossed several times, Florence and Russell never actually met before, during, or after the Athenia was sunk. Torpedoed! is a story that will certainly appeal to everyone, but especially to young readers interested in history, WWII, and nonfiction survivor accounts. Mullenbach has also included lots of photographs and maps to help orient readers, as well as a Time Line of events, Notes and a Bibliography for those interested in more information. Interestingly, the Athenia has recently been in the news once again. BBC reported that the remains of the ship may possibly have been discovered a few hundred miles from Ireland, on Rockall Bank. You can read about it HERE This book is recommended for readers age 10+ This book was sent to me by the publisher, Chicago Review Press

  3. 5 out of 5

    Martha Trzepacz

    Relive the 1939 sinking of the passenger ship S.S. Athenia, torpedoed by a German submarine on it's way to Canada and the United States. Well written and fully documented, the author has captured this tragic moment in the lives of two young American survivors. I was particularly interested in this book because a friend of my mother's was on that ship with her sister and mother traveling home to Toronto. Relive the 1939 sinking of the passenger ship S.S. Athenia, torpedoed by a German submarine on it's way to Canada and the United States. Well written and fully documented, the author has captured this tragic moment in the lives of two young American survivors. I was particularly interested in this book because a friend of my mother's was on that ship with her sister and mother traveling home to Toronto.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Melanie Dulaney

    "Torpedoed" will fit very nicely into my 4th and 5th grade libraries' very popular World War sections and will find crossover with fans of the Titanic as well as the survival themed books. Readers will experience war preparations in Europe and follow the lives of teens Florence and Russell while in pre-war countries and as they survive the sinking of their ship. The photographs used frequently throughout will reinforce the text's authenticity as well as help readers accurately visualize the era. "Torpedoed" will fit very nicely into my 4th and 5th grade libraries' very popular World War sections and will find crossover with fans of the Titanic as well as the survival themed books. Readers will experience war preparations in Europe and follow the lives of teens Florence and Russell while in pre-war countries and as they survive the sinking of their ship. The photographs used frequently throughout will reinforce the text's authenticity as well as help readers accurately visualize the era. Using a more narrative style of writing, Mullenbach's book will appeal to readers of both fiction and non-fiction. I do plan to purchase "Torpedoed," but am a bit disappointed that the author was not able to convey the sense of fear and panic in my heart that I'm sure passengers of the "Athena" and citizens of the British Isles were feeling. (Review of digital ARC from EdelweissPlus)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Alicia

    While the thread are two American kids who were on the Athenia at the time of it's torpedoing, it really isn't the story of the two of them other than to be able to "follow" a character through the horrific ordeal. Florence was 14 and Russel was 11. Mullenbach shares why they were overseas and how they came to be passengers on the ship and subsequently, their survival at sea when the U-boat headed by a commander named Lemp (who for all intents and purposes though he was dead by the Nuremberg Tri While the thread are two American kids who were on the Athenia at the time of it's torpedoing, it really isn't the story of the two of them other than to be able to "follow" a character through the horrific ordeal. Florence was 14 and Russel was 11. Mullenbach shares why they were overseas and how they came to be passengers on the ship and subsequently, their survival at sea when the U-boat headed by a commander named Lemp (who for all intents and purposes though he was dead by the Nuremberg Trials) thought he was bombing a supply ship after Great Britain declared war on Germany. Instead, Lemp and crew torpedoed a passenger ship in which more than 100 people died as a result of the preliminary explosion or movement from sinking ship to rescue raft to rescue boats that arrived after the SOS signal was given. It likely could have been a more captivating story told as informational nonfiction without having to weave the two kids in since there is plenty of source material (and it's listed in the back) and plenty of details are fascinating enough including the rescue, the travel by the various rescue ships, their life afterward (Florence lived until she was 90 and gave presentations until she was 85 about it). And the youngest survivor didn't even remember it because he was 1 and was hoisted onto the rescue ship in a bucket. Again, fascinating enough without needing to "follow" characters through the tragedy. Though the cover could have skipped the comic-style to give it a different feel though the chapter headings lend itself to that style, but it would have worked without it too.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Theresa

    You’ve probably heard of RMS Lusitania, but the story of the SS Athenia is just as compelling. As this transatlantic passenger ship starts on its way to Canada and away from the outbreak of WWII, a German torpedo ship fires four torpedoes in its direction. One of them strikes the ship, sending passengers on an odyssey for survival. This book follows the story of two real children whose summers – and lives – are forever changed by a German U-boat commander who made the terrible decision to fire You’ve probably heard of RMS Lusitania, but the story of the SS Athenia is just as compelling. As this transatlantic passenger ship starts on its way to Canada and away from the outbreak of WWII, a German torpedo ship fires four torpedoes in its direction. One of them strikes the ship, sending passengers on an odyssey for survival. This book follows the story of two real children whose summers – and lives – are forever changed by a German U-boat commander who made the terrible decision to fire on a ship carrying families, not soldiers. Information from numerous primary sources pulls readers into the story of Russell and Florence, but vivid details put the reader on the ship to experience the fear and hope. Clear explanations help readers without WWII background knowledge make sense of the events of the time. Curriculum connections: WWII, biographies / memoirs, primary sources, including details, timelines, following characters through a story.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    I'm glad this was written and hope more children, and adults take the time to read it. I've encountered so many people who believe civilians are not harmed during wars intentionally; like bullets and bombs can somehow discern combatants from civilians (they can't.). Boggles the mind. This is a must read book. It follows the true story of two American children whose ship, the Athenia, was torpedoed, but is in general about the sinking of a passenger ship by German submarines prior to the U.S.'s i I'm glad this was written and hope more children, and adults take the time to read it. I've encountered so many people who believe civilians are not harmed during wars intentionally; like bullets and bombs can somehow discern combatants from civilians (they can't.). Boggles the mind. This is a must read book. It follows the true story of two American children whose ship, the Athenia, was torpedoed, but is in general about the sinking of a passenger ship by German submarines prior to the U.S.'s involvement in the war. War has a lot pf atrocities. Just over 100 pages, has photos, a timeline, notes, bibliography, and index. Well researched, written for 5th grade up, in my opinion.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Keri

    This book fits in perfectly with SC's 5th grade social studies curriculum. This is an interesting and engaging account of the sinking of a passenger ship during WWII. It's full of first-hand accounts from the perspectives of children who survived the horrific ordeal. My students love books where they can connect to the characters and imagine themselves in their shoes. This book, complete with photographs, will be perfect for them. I read this book in advance of publication due to NetGalley. This book fits in perfectly with SC's 5th grade social studies curriculum. This is an interesting and engaging account of the sinking of a passenger ship during WWII. It's full of first-hand accounts from the perspectives of children who survived the horrific ordeal. My students love books where they can connect to the characters and imagine themselves in their shoes. This book, complete with photographs, will be perfect for them. I read this book in advance of publication due to NetGalley.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Pastel

    I won a copy in a Goodreads giveaway. I had entered thinking that my 11 year old nephew would like this, being that he loves World War II stories--and I think he'll really enjoy this book, as it tells the story of people his age surviving a reality of war: when civilians get caught in the crossfire. The book moves at a quick pace, is candid with the realities of violence, and has a lot of neat photographs to enrich the story. I won a copy in a Goodreads giveaway. I had entered thinking that my 11 year old nephew would like this, being that he loves World War II stories--and I think he'll really enjoy this book, as it tells the story of people his age surviving a reality of war: when civilians get caught in the crossfire. The book moves at a quick pace, is candid with the realities of violence, and has a lot of neat photographs to enrich the story.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    Thank you, @kidlitexchange network for the review copy of this book! Opinions are my own! 🤗 Readers who enjoy WWII non-fiction will enjoy this book by Cheryl Mullenbach! Lots of photographs, easy to read - great for 4th grade - up!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Short & thrilling recount of the sinking of the passenger ship Athenia in September 1939, told from two teenagers who survived the ordeal.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

    Reviewed for professional publication.

  13. 4 out of 5

    JOSE TAMAYO

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

  15. 5 out of 5

    evelyn

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kate McCartney

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kira McGann

  18. 4 out of 5

    E Wolcott

  19. 5 out of 5

    Julie Williams

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lyndi

  23. 5 out of 5

    M

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mary Beth MacLeay

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jehu Otto

  26. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

  27. 4 out of 5

    Em

  28. 4 out of 5

    Megan

  29. 5 out of 5

    Caitlyn D'Elia

  30. 5 out of 5

    Megan Thornton

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