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The History of Maritime Piracy

Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425


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Books for Pirate Apprentices and Young Adults

Cover Art: The Sinking of the Vasa
The Sinking of the Vasa: A Shipwreck of Titanic Proportions
By Russell Freedman
Illustrated by William Low
Godwin Books / Henry Holt, 2018, ISBN 978-1-62779-866-2, US $18.99 / CAN $24.99

StarStarStarStarStar
King Gustav II wanted to dazzle and terrify the world, to show all the other countries how wealthy and skillful Sweden was. How better to show this than to build the most powerful warship ever known? For two years, shipwrights and other craftsmen worked to make his dream a reality, and when she was launched on Sunday, 10 August 1628, Vasa was indeed the crown jewel of the Swedish navy. Her masts rose high into the air, as high as a building fourteen stories tall. If she was placed at the end of one city street, she would reach nearly to the end of the block. She carried ten huge sails and rows of 64 bronze cannons lined each side of three different decks. She was not only a magnificent war machine, she was also a work of art. Painted and gilded sculptures and carvings too many to count decorated her hull.

The sailors and their families gathered on the decks for Vasas maiden voyage. People waved goodbye from the shore and some boarded smaller boats to follow the mighty warship. But then disaster struck. The sails caught the wind, Vasa heeled over on one side, and water poured through her open gunports. Many men, women, and children died as the ship sank below the waves. Those who survived and those ashore, including the king, began to ask questions. How could this happen? Why did she sink? Who was to blame?

Within the pages of this book the story of the Vasa and her fate unfold. The artwork is skillfully rendered and colorful, telling the story without graphically depicting the horror of this tragedy. The size of the illustrations gives readers a sense of just how big this warship was and they cover all the facets of her building, the launch, and her recovery. There is even a four-page spread showing how divers lifted Vasa from the seafloor three centuries after she sank. The narrative tells the same story, but in greater detail and in a compelling way that shows that other vessels slipped beneath the waves long before Titanic. At no time does the author talk down to his audience and the large font size makes the text easy to read. For those who might want to explore Vasa further, he provides a list of sources, including the website for the museum where visitors can view photographs of her, listen to an audioguide, and learn about exhibitions, artifacts, and preservation efforts.

The Sinking of the Vasa is not your typical picture book. Its geared toward older children and includes far more text than normally appears in such volumes. Young readers interested in stories of the sea and sailing ships will be fascinated, and teachers will find this a useful enhancement to history lessons and for eliciting discussion in the classroom.

View artwork from the book

Meet the illustrator


Book Review Copyright 2018 Cindy Vallar


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