Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood. September 4, 2018. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 336 p. ISBN: 9781481468831. Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.8.
In the tradition of The War That Saved My Life and Stella By Starlight, this poignant novel in verse based on true events tells the story of a boy’s harrowing experience on a lifeboat after surviving a torpedo attack during World War II.
With Nazis bombing London every night, it’s time for thirteen-year-old Ken to escape. He suspects his stepmother is glad to see him go, but his dad says he’s one of the lucky ones—one of ninety boys and girls to ship out aboard the SS City of Benares to safety in Canada.
Life aboard the luxury ship is grand—nine-course meals, new friends, and a life far from the bombs, rations, and his stepmum’s glare. And after five days at sea, the ship’s officers announce that they’re out of danger.
Late that night, an explosion hurls Ken from his bunk. They’ve been hit. Torpedoed! The Benares is sinking fast. Terrified, Ken scrambles aboard Lifeboat 12 with five other boys. Will they get away? Will they survive?
Award-winning author Susan Hood brings this little-known World War II story to life in a riveting novel of courage, hope, and compassion. Based on true events and real people, Lifeboat 12 is about believing in one another, knowing that only by banding together will we have any chance to survive.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Harsh realities of war, Suicide by drowning
Kirkus Reviews (June 15, 2018)
An escape from war-torn Britain becomes a struggle for survival when a ship is torpedoed off the coast of England. In June 1940, Great Britain formed the Children’s Overseas Reception Board to transfer Britain’s children away from the encroaching war to safe harbors around the world. Over 200,000 children between the ages of 5 and 15 applied for just 20,000 spots. Thirteen-year-old Kenneth Sparks is chosen to travel on the City of Benares, a luxury ocean liner, to Canada, where he will live with his aunt in Edmonton. The children are distracted by rich food, new toys, and soft beds, but the accompanying convoy of war ships is a constant reminder that while the blitzkrieg might be behind them, German torpedoes are a very present threat. Three days into their voyage, the Benares is hit, sending crew and passengers into the lifeboats and the water. Ken, along with a handful of others, all white except 32 Asian sailors of varied ethnicity (called Lascars at the time), must survive with little water, food, or shelter if they are to make it out alive. Told in verse, the story of Lifeboat 12 is lyrical, terrifying, and even at times funny. Hood makes effective use of line breaks and punctuation to wrap readers up in Ken’s tale. Copious research, including interviews with the real Ken Sparks, went into the making of this fictional recasting of a true story of survival. Backmatter offers further information, including the racism experienced by the Lascars. A richly detailed account of a little-known event in World War II. (Historical verse fiction. 9-12)
School Library Journal (May 1, 2018)
Gr 4-7-It’s 1940, the beginning of the Blitz, and 13-year-old Kenneth Sparks is selected to go to Canada as part of a program to send British children to the safety of the U.K.’s overseas dominions. When his ship is torpedoed, Kenneth, five other boys from the program, and about 40 adults make it aboard Lifeboat 12, one of the only lifeboats remaining after the evening’s gale-force winds. Together, they must survive the North Atlantic in a boat with limited supplies. Evocative verse perfectly captures the horror of their situation, the agonizing disappointment of near-rescues, and the tedium of daily life aboard a cramped lifeboat. For example, immediately following the shipwreck, Kenneth spies the red rocking horse that had been in the children’s playroom floating in the wreckage: “It rears up from the sea,/the red horse of war,/its mouth open,/silently screaming/at all it sees,/rocking up and down/in the waves,/past the bodies of those/I now know/are already/dead.” Adding to the appeal of this work is an exceptionally well-curated and organized array of back matter that includes an author’s note, a nonfiction account of the real-life Lifeboat 12, photos, an essay on the author’s sources and research technique, and documented source notes for a significant amount of the book’s dialogue. VERDICT This stirring novel-in-verse based on a true story is an edge-of-your-seat survival tale, an extensively researched work of historical fiction, and an exemplar of the form.-Eileen Makoff, P.S. 90 Edna Cohen School, NY
About the Author
Susan Hood has written more than 200 picture books. She has received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist, and her book Spike, The Mixed-Up Monster won the 2013 International Latino Award and was selected for the Charlotte Zolotow Highly Commended List. The Tooth Mouse was named a 2013 Best Book of the Year by Bank Street and the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Prior to becoming an author, Susan was a children’s magazine editor at Scholastic and Instructor Magazine, a book editor at Sesame Workshop, and the Children’s Content Director of Nick Jr. Magazine. Ada’s Violin is her latest nonfiction picture book and Lifeboat 12 is her first novel in verse.
Her website is www.susanhoodbooks.com
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