________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 30. . . .April 6, 2018


Broken Pieces: An Orphan of the Halifax Explosion. (Compass: True Stories for Kids).

Allison Lawlor.
Halifax, NS: Nimbus, 2017.
100 pp., trade pbk., $17.95.
ISBN 978-1-77108-515-1.

Subject Headings:
Halifax Explosion, Halifax, N.S., 1917-Juvenile literature.
Halifax Explosion, Halifax, N.S., 1917-Pictorial works-Juvenile literature.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Crystal Sutherland.

**˝ /4



By 8:45 A.M., only minutes after the collision, the Mont Blanc was a ball of fire on the water. The burning ship drifted closer and closer to the Halifax shore, up to Pier 6 in Richmond. Thick clouds of greyish black smoke rose into the still morning air. Flames, which looked like orange fireworks, poked up through the smoke.

On the Halifax side, in Barbara’s neighbourhood of Richmond, people were unaware of the deadly explosives aboard the Mont Blanc. Hundreds of people flocked to their windows and rooftops and ran out into the streets or to the top of Fort Needham to watch the spectacular fire. Barbara and her brother Ian and her sister Isabel asked their mother if they could go outside to get a better look. Seeing no danger, their mother said yes. The three siblings left the house while their mother and the three youngest children stayed at home. Ian and Isabel headed straight for the harbor. Barbara stopped by a friend’s house to see if she wanted to come along too.


With a busy port full of warships, ship captains and sailors were well aware of the volume of explosives in the vicinity, but, with heighted attention and careful coordination, ships were making their way in and out of the tight neck of Halifax Harbour without incident. Everything changed when, at 9:05 AM on December 6th, 1917, Halifax, Nova Scotia experienced the second largest man made explosion in history. The Norwegian SS Imo collided with the explosive laden French SS Mont Blanc in Halifax Harbour, with the resulting explosion killing 1,900 people and leaving 9,000 injured, and flattening a wide swath of the city along the shore and causing damage for miles.

     Embedded in the history of the Halifax Explosion is 14 year old Barbara Orr’s personal story and experiences leading up to and after the explosion. Barbara’s home was in one of the hardest hit areas of the city, and she was heading to school for the first time after being quarantined for 10 days because her younger brother had whooping cough, standard practice in 1917. Barbara was badly injured in the explosion but was lucky to survive. Her home was gone, and, in the chaos after the explosion, it took days to confirm Barbara was the only member of her family who survived the Halifax Explosion. Moving between the Halifax Explosion and Barbara Orr’s story, Broken Pieces: An Orphan of the Halifax Explosion gives the history of one of the most notable events in the history of Halifax and the impact it had on individuals as well as Halifax as a whole.

     Allison Lawlor paints a very vivid picture of Halifax leading up to and following the Halifax Explosion. Photographs of Halifax before and after the explosion complement the text, and, along with vignettes highlighting the stories of other survivors and additional historical facts, they help break up the historical background which could have been dry on its own.

     The title is a bit misleading: Broken Pieces: An Orphan of the Halifax Explosion gives the impression Barbara Orr will be the focus of the book; unfortunately, Barbara’s story gets lost in the details of the Halifax Explosion. Readers who pick up the book expecting to read the story of an orphan may be disappointed; however, readers with a passion for history will love Broken Pieces: An Orphan of the Halifax Explosion.


A MEd (Literacy) and MLIS graduate, Crystal Sutherland is the librarian at the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women and lives in Halifax, NS.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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