CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 9. . . .November 4, 2016
Vanished: True Tales of Mysterious Disappearances.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2016.
184 pp., pbk., hc., epub & pdf, $16.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-817-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-818-0 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55451-819-7 (epub), ISBN 978-1-55451-820-3 (pdf).
Disappearances (Parapsychology)-Juvenile literature.
Missing persons-Juvenile literature.
Curiosities and wonders-Juvenile literature.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Val Ken Lem.
Franklin’s ships were outfitted with the most modern inventions. The HMS Erebus (named after the Greek god of darkness, associated with the underworld) and the HMS Terror were bomb vessels and had taken part in a number of naval battles, so they were strongly built. These ships were constructed to withstand the jarring recoil of their mortars (a type of cannon), so they had strong, thick internal wooden frameworks.
Franklin knew how grueling the expedition would be, so he made sure his 129-man crew were well prepared. They took three years’ worth of supplies, including 8,000 cans of meat, soup, and vegetables. Putting food in tin cans to preserve it had only been done for about 30 years, and Franklin wanted everything about the expedition to be modern. But the contract to supply the food was given to a cheap supplier who had only a few months to assemble it all. That haste would prove fatal to Franklin and his men.
With Vanished, MacLeod, a fêted author, continues to demonstrate her talent for making history interesting to young readers. The six mysteries presented span the modern era from the end of the sixteenth century, when the settlers of Roanoke Island in colonial North Carolina disappeared, through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The fate of the Franklin expedition that disappeared in the 1840s during a failed attempt to navigate the Arctic Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans is one of the better known stories. The ghost ship Mary Celeste was found adrift in the Atlantic with no one aboard in 1872. During the Second World War, the Nazi occupiers of the Russian city of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) discovered the concealed walls of the Amber Room in the Catherine Palace and soon stripped the room of amber panels that filled 27 crates. These were shipped to a German castle and subsequently vanished. Another puzzle is the jailbreak by three convicts from the Alcatraz Prison in 1962. The final mystery is that of an art heist at the Gardner Museum in Boston in March 1990. Thirteen works, including Johannes Vermeer’s painting The Concert, sketches by Edgar Degas and three works by Rembrandt, have never been recovered. This remains the most valuable art theft in American history.
The accounts not only explain the historical context of the events and contemporary theories and efforts to solve the mysteries but include recent research and explain the use of modern technologies that could help unravel old mysteries. While cost is prohibitive, DNA testing could be used to test theories that some of the Roanoke settlers made their way to a nearby island and intermarried with the local Lumbee tribe. Magnetometers, ground-penetrating radar and Lidar are all potentially useful technologies to study archaeological sites. Autonomous underwater vehicles equipped with multibeam sonar and side-scan sonar proved their worth in the location of the shipwreck of one of Franklin’s ships in 2014. Modern ships carry voyage data recorders that are comparable to the “black boxes” carried on aircraft. Retrieval of these recording devices can help explain modern catastrophes. Likewise, modern forensic techniques could have tested theories about foul play aboard the Mary Celeste. In the period following the end of World War II, the U.S. Army had a division that sought out stolen art. One technique that they used was aerial photography. Today, aerial photos can be taken by drones (remote-controlled unmanned aircraft). Satellite imagery and GIS (Geographic Information System) technology are also used by modern archaeologists. Some tools used for tracking missing persons include electronic tracing of bank transactions and social media clues as well as the examination of CCTV (closed-circuit television) camera recordings. The international market for stolen art works is estimated to be worth $5 billion per year. If missing works from the Gardner Museum are found, their veracity will have to be determined using techniques such as radiocarbon dating, x-rays and x-ray fluorescence to ensure that they are not copies created by a forger.
Sidebars are used liberally to introduce other examples of unsolved mysteries such as other lost communities, the lost explorer Amundsen whose plane disappeared in the Arctic in 1928, additional escapes from Alcatraz and other art thefts. Some sidebars discuss aspects of the narratives, including an account of Dr. John Rae’s unwelcome finding in 1854 that some of Franklin’s sailors resorted to cannibalism, “The age of sail” in the chapter about the Mary Celeste, and a very brief profile of Isabella Stewart Gardner and the museum that she founded. Numerous illustrations and portraits, most in colour, are well-integrated into the volume. Each chapter includes a very small map featuring most of the world with the location of the event boldly highlighted. It is unfortunate that a more detailed map is not included in the Franklin chapter since many of the Arctic islands are named in the narrative but require a reader to find secondary sources to help them visualize the locales.
Vanished includes additional features appropriate for this readership. Two bibliographies are given broken into sections that relate to each chapter. “Main sources” focuses upon trade publications written for general audiences, while “Further reading” identifies sources written for children. The index is very good but omits an entry for cannibalism. A timeline is of questionable value. A list of places to visit features museums and national historic sites that relate to the topics explored in each chapter. This list would be even more valuable if it included URLs for the institutions identified.
The publisher’s website includes more resources for teachers, including an author video and lesson plan that provides eight sample activities.
Val Ken Lem is the liaison librarian for history, English and Caribbean studies at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.
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