Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Blizzard! The Storm that Changed America by Jim Murphy

"A minister in a small New Jersey village looked up at the sky, then hurried indoors. 'I had the strangest of feelings,' he would tell his parishioners that day. 'It was as if the unholy one himself was riding in those clouds.'"

Blizzard! is a book that has been in my to-read queue since my Selection and Acquisitions course this past summer. I've always been attracted to non-fiction, especially when it comes to crazy-awesome forces of nature. When I was a little girl wandering around in my grade-school library, I usually ended up spending quite a bit of my time in the non-fiction section, leaving with books from the same series about nature and natural disasters. I would go so far as to assume I was the most well-informed 3rd grader on the subject of volcanoes, tornadoes, and earthquakes...

So how was it, I thought as we discussed selecting non-fiction in our school libraries and classrooms, that I had never heard (or read) about the Great Blizzard of 1888? I needed to read this book. I noted the title in the back of my mind and ordered it through MOBIUS as soon as my reading project list began to develop. How ironic that I would get to begin reading Murphy's masterpiece in the midsts of our very own "blizzard"!

Now, although many of us in the St. Charles area were utterly disappointed at Snowmageddon's less-than-epic-blizzardly powers, reading the true accounts of the Great Blizzard of 1888 made me feel safe and very blessed to be trapped and warm within my cozy little apartment. Murphy undoubtedly spent an impressive many hours researching and reading personal accounts of this powerful storm, following various threads of correspondence, news and weather reports, and unbelievable statistics in order to bring a "big-picture," historically-accurate retelling of the storm that nearly shut down the East Coast.

The way Murphy melds personal stories and historical and meteorological makes the book so interesting that I had difficulty putting it down. How is it that no one knew the storm was coming? Why did so many adults and children alike venture out into the blizzard (with winds over 75 mph and temperatures far below freezing point) alone and determined to go about their everyday tasks and jobs??? The facts about life in 1888 are enough to bring a little perspective to our own "blizzard" experience in the 21st century. I don't think we often realize how blessed we are to be able to comfortably endure a few inches of snow and ice in an age where we can use cell phones or the internet to check in with our loved ones and make sure they are safe. Needless to say, this book would generate a great discussion about history, the industrial progression of society, and the unstoppable forces of nature.

So, I'm going to stop rambling about the book and let you head to the library and pick it up!

5Q: Excellent story-telling and historical references; interesting, authentic pictures and newspaper clippings used throughout
5P: I think if you can get your kiddos into U.S. History, culture, and/or weather, you will have no problem getting them interested in this book--it would be great for a class read!

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