Young protagonist takes kids along for the ride in 'Surviving the Hindenburg'


Your list of chores is a long one.

Every morning, you have to make your bed and straighten up. You help with dishes, help keep the house clean, pitch in with outside work, maybe even cook and bring in firewood.

And that's not even counting your weekend chores.

You'd like to believe you've got it rough, but as you'll see in the new book, "Surviving the Hindenburg" by Larry Verstraete, illustrated by David Geister, your chores ain't nothing. At least they don't put you in the path of danger.

Fourteen-year-old Werner Franz was very excited.

Even though he had work to do as cabin boy for the Hindenburg -- his job was to make beds, set tables, wash dishes, and clean uniforms -- he was finally going to get a chance to see America, and he couldn't wait!

It was 1937, and air travel over the Atlantic was brand-new. The Hindenburg was one of the most famous of all airships, and one of the largest: at 13 stories high and more than 800 feet long, it was like a big floating hotel surrounded by fabric cells filled with highly-flammable hydrogen. As the youngest crew member, Werner loved working on this great big ship in the sky.

Every day, when he was done with his work in the kitchen, Werner loved to visit with the mechanics who manned the engines or the riggers who worked at the top of the airship. It was a little bit of a balancing act to get to them; the Hindenburg was filled with narrow wooden paths that took people from stern to bow. One of the paths led to a small window that gave Werner a bird's-eye look at the Atlantic Ocean and, on May 6, 1937, an up-high look at New York City.

It was stormy that day, but people crowded the beaches of New Jersey to watch this first-ever look at the mighty Hindenburg's landing. Werner wished he could watch it, too, but he had dishes to finish.

And then there was a thump. Dishes scattered and broke, and Werner ran to a wooden pathway. The Hindenburg was on fire!

Based on a true story for which the anniversary looms, "Surviving the Hindenburg" is an interesting tale enhanced by historical information in front and back pages, both of which give young readers an idea of the magnitude of this disaster. In telling this story, Verstraete gives kids someone to identify with: a boy like them who is witness to an event that shocked Americans, and the Germans who made the zeppelin.

And that's all good, but what really makes this book are the illustrations by Geister. With a palette that evokes many emotions in few pages, Geister's artwork truly sets the tone of this book.

While it's generally the size and shape of a preschooler's picture book, I think "Surviving the Hindenburg" is better suited for children 7 to 12. If you've got a young historian in the house, in fact, enjoying this book won't be a chore.

View publishes Terri Schlichenmeyer's children's book review weekly.

 

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