Cover image for Lifeboat 12 [electronic resource] :
Lifeboat 12 [electronic resource] :
Hood, Susan.
-- The 57 Bus “Brilliantly told in verse, readers will love Ken Sparks.” —Patricia Reilly Giff, two-time Newbery Honor winner “Lyrical, terrifying, and even at times funny. A richly detailed account of a little-known event in World War II.” — -- A Junior Library Guild Selection -- SS City of Benares Life aboard the luxury ship is grand—nine-course meals, new friends, and a life far from the bombs, rations, and his stepmum’s glare. And after five days at sea, the ship’s officers announce that they’re out of danger. They’re wrong. Late that night, an explosion hurls Ken from his bunk. They’ve been hit. Torpedoed! The -- Lifeboat 12 is about believing in one another, knowing that only by banding together will we have any chance to survive.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers,
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"This page-turning true-life adventure is filled with rich and riveting details and a timeless understanding of the things that matter most."--Dashka Slater, author of The 57 Bus
"Brilliantly told in verse, readers will love Ken Sparks." --Patricia Reilly Giff, two-time Newbery Honor winner
"Lyrical, terrifying, and even at times funny. A richly detailed account of a little-known event in World War II." -- Kirkus Reviews
"Middle grade Titanic fans, here's your next read." -- BCCB
"An edge-of-your seat survival tale." -- School Library Journal (starred review)

A Junior Library Guild Selection
A 2019 Golden Kite Middle Grade Fiction Award Winner

In the tradition of The War That Saved My Life and Stella By Starlight , this poignant novel in verse based on true events tells the story of a boy's harrowing experience on a lifeboat after surviving a torpedo attack during World War II.

With Nazis bombing London every night, it's time for thirteen-year-old Ken to escape. He suspects his stepmother is glad to see him go, but his dad says he's one of the lucky ones--one of ninety boys and girls to ship out aboard the SS City of Benares to safety in Canada.

Life aboard the luxury ship is grand--nine-course meals, new friends, and a life far from the bombs, rations, and his stepmum's glare. And after five days at sea, the ship's officers announce that they're out of danger.

They're wrong.

Late that night, an explosion hurls Ken from his bunk. They've been hit. Torpedoed! The Benares is sinking fast. Terrified, Ken scrambles aboard Lifeboat 12 with five other boys. Will they get away? Will they survive?

Award-winning author Susan Hood brings this little-known World War II story to life in a riveting novel of courage, hope, and compassion. Based on true events and real people, Lifeboat 12 is about believing in one another, knowing that only by banding together will we have any chance to survive.

Reviews 3

Horn Book Review

This propulsive novel in verse tells the tale of thirteen-year-old Ken, who boarded a ship to Canada to avoid Nazi bombs raining down on London during World War II. When the ship is torpedoed, Ken and fellow child passengers must find a way to survive on Lifeboat 12. Based on real events and people, Hood's novel is an excellent addition to the canon of WWII fiction. Extensive back matter includes an author's note, source lists, and historical photos. (c) Copyright 2019. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-7-It's 1940, the beginning of the Blitz, and 13-year-old Kenneth Sparks is selected to go to Canada as part of a program to send British children to the safety of the U.K.'s overseas dominions. When his ship is torpedoed, Kenneth, five other boys from the program, and about 40 adults make it aboard Lifeboat 12, one of the only lifeboats remaining after the evening's gale-force winds. Together, they must survive the North Atlantic in a boat with limited supplies. Evocative verse perfectly captures the horror of their situation, the agonizing disappointment of near-rescues, and the tedium of daily life aboard a cramped lifeboat. For example, immediately following the shipwreck, Kenneth spies the red rocking horse that had been in the children's playroom floating in the wreckage: "It rears up from the sea,/the red horse of war,/its mouth open,/silently screaming/at all it sees,/rocking up and down/in the waves,/past the bodies of those/I now know/are already/dead." Adding to the appeal of this work is an exceptionally well-curated and organized array of back matter that includes an author's note, a nonfiction account of the real-life Lifeboat 12, photos, an essay on the author's sources and research technique, and documented source notes for a significant amount of the book's dialogue. VERDICT This stirring novel-in-verse based on a true story is an edge-of-your-seat survival tale, an extensively researched work of historical fiction, and an exemplar of the form.-Eileen Makoff, P.S. 90 Edna Cohen School, NY © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

An escape from war-torn Britain becomes a struggle for survival when a ship is torpedoed off the coast of England. In June 1940, Great Britain formed the Children's Overseas Reception Board to transfer Britain's children away from the encroaching war to safe harbors around the world. Over 200,000 children between the ages of 5 and 15 applied for just 20,000 spots. Thirteen-year-old Kenneth Sparks is chosen to travel on the City of Benares, a luxury ocean liner, to Canada, where he will live with his aunt in Edmonton. The children are distracted by rich food, new toys, and soft beds, but the accompanying convoy of war ships is a constant reminder that while the blitzkrieg might be behind them, German torpedoes are a very present threat. Three days into their voyage, the Benares is hit, sending crew and passengers into the lifeboats and the water. Ken, along with a handful of others, all white except 32 Asian sailors of varied ethnicity (called Lascars at the time), must survive with little water, food, or shelter if they are to make it out alive. Told in verse, the story of Lifeboat 12 is lyrical, terrifying, and even at times funny. Hood makes effective use of line breaks and punctuation to wrap readers up in Ken's tale. Copious research, including interviews with the real Ken Sparks, went into the making of this fictional recasting of a true story of survival. Backmatter offers further information, including the racism experienced by the Lascars.A richly detailed account of a little-known event in World War II. (Historical verse fiction. 9-12) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.



Lifeboat 12 SUMMER, 1940 The Envelope I shouldn't do it. I know I shouldn't. I'll be in trouble if I open the large envelope addressed to my parents. But it's stamped "on His Majesty's Service." It's not every day a family like mine gets a letter from the King. The clock tick, tick, ticks. I glance down the hall to make sure I'm alone. I slide my finger under the flap, and peer inside. Dear Sir (or Madam), I am directed by the Children's Overseas Reception Scheme . . . It's nothing, a dull form letter but . . . wait! Someone has written in my name-- your preliminary application has been considered by the Board and they have decided that KENNETH J. SPARKS is are suitable for being sent to . . . CANADA. "What are you doing?" cries my stepmum, seizing the letter from my hands. "That is not addressed to you. Charles! Charles! This cheeky son of yours wants a good clout about the ears!" "That letter is about me!" I say. "You're sending me away!" I glare up at my father who appears in the doorway. My stepmum got her wish-- to get rid of me. "Ken, let me explain," says my dad. "This letter could save your life." The Reasons Why They sit me down. I shrug their hands off my shoulders and stare at the floor, heart slamming, heat rising. They talk and talk, voices swirling in the air rising and falling, overlapping, interrupting, weaving a net, a trap, but I'm not going to fall for it. I try to block them out. I concentrate on slowing the storm in my head. They're sending me away! But hang on, what's that about the Germans? "The Germans are coming," says Dad. "France surrendered this summer and the Nazis are gunning for England next. Hundreds of thousands of parents applied to have their kids sent out of harm's way." "You're lucky to have been selected," says Mum. "I have a sister in Edmonton, Canada. You can live with her. With your father out of work, money is tight. We can rent out your room to help pay for rations." "Just think--sailing on a ship!" says Dad. "It will be an adventure! You'll make your way in the world. Get your head out of those books. . . ." My books? My stories of buccaneers and buried gold, cowboys, braves and days of old. . . . I snort. Most parents would be chuffed to have a kid who loves to read. I read them because they take me away . . . far from the way I'm living. My three-year-old sister toddles over and rests her head on my knees. I run my hand over her curls. "What about Margaret? Shouldn't she go, too?" "She's too young," says Mum. "Only ages five through fifteen are allowed." At thirteen I'll be one of the oldest. "No adults?" I ask. "Parents can't go," says my dad, "but you'll have escorts-- a whole staff of doctors, nurses, teachers, priests who are volunteering. Yes, son, you're one of the lucky ones. You leave in September. You mustn't tell your friends," says Dad. "Loose lips sink ships, you know." "And there will be a new overcoat for you," says Mum as if that clinches the deal. I squint up at her and think, I'm as good as gone. I tear out of the house. Escape I dash down the streets, down the railway line, across the tracks, over a fence. There in the wall, behind the loose brick, I snatch my stash of penny cannon fireworks. I stick some in a tree, strike a match to the fuse, and back away. I watch as the wick sputters, smokes, sparks. BLAM! It makes quite a hole. The charcoal-scented smoke wafts away and my fury with it. The smoke distracts me as it does angry bees. Let's face it. My stepmum has never liked me. She calls me a terror, a little so-and-so. I wish my own mum were alive. The doctors told her she wasn't supposed to have children, but she didn't listen. She died soon after I was born. It's all my fault. But why did my dad have to marry my nanny? Well, I wouldn't have Margaret otherwise. . . . Sure, she's a bother sometimes, but she makes me laugh. I think about my stepmum, the ship, and this evacuation plan. I feel like a hand-me-down my stepmum doesn't want, so she'll donate me to a good cause. Forget it. I'm not going. She won't get rid of me that easily. I climb over another fence, hoist myself up a tree, and grab an apple to eat. She thinks I'm a terror? Just because I like to scrump a few apples? My dad just says I'm full of beans. I can't get away with much or I get a clout round the ear hole or the cane at school. Now they want to send me away across the ocean. Well, I'm not going. The New World That's what they call it. Wonder what it's like? Everything I own is old, tired, secondhand. Well, I got a new mum, but I'm her secondhand kid. She makes me feel worn, torn, worthless. A New World sounds wide open, a chance to start my miserable life over again. A black ant makes his way along the gnarled branch high off the ground. He's brave, that one. I chew on my apple. How can it taste sour and sweet at the same time? Maybe Dad's right. It will be an adventure . . . far from the rations, far from my stepmum's scowl, far from teacher's cane, far from the war . . . 'twould be folly to miss this chance. They say I'm one of the lucky ones. Maybe I am. A Sea Change A dog starts barking. A man yells, "Hey! You again? Get down out of that tree. Clear off or I'll have your hide!" I pluck another apple, jump down, and run for the fence, the dog at my heels. Up and over, I make my getaway. All the way home I think of narrow escapes and high adventure. Okay, I'll show them! I'll go and grow up like the chaps in my books-- like Wart and Robin Hood. I'll go to sea like Jim Hawkins or Robinson Crusoe. How long will I be gone? Months? Years? Will I ever come back? Liver Again "Oh, you're home now, are you?" says my stepmum, as I walk in the door. "You get a little hungry and all is forgiven." "Leave him be, Nora," says my dad. "He's had a lot to think about. Come on, son, let's sit down to eat." Mum places a plate of roly-poly on the table. I've watched her make it before-- a bit of chopped liver rolled up in a pastry of flour, oatmeal, and suet. Disgusting. I grab a potato and say, "I'm not hungry." "You will be if this rationing gets any worse," says Mum. "Those Huns keep sinking our food supply ships and you'll be lucky for any scrap you get. That's almost the last meat for the week, so eat up." "Any sweets, Mummy?" asks Margaret. "Yes, dear," says Mum. "A nice baked milk pudding for dessert. Now eat your roly-poly." Oof, I'm ready to get out of here. Something New I haven't had store-bought clothes in months . . . years maybe. "Make do and mend," everyone says, part of the war effort. I wear hand-me-downs from cousins and neighbors, patched, faded, worn, torn, with stains that won't come out, with arms too long, legs too short. But it's cold in Canada, says my stepmum. With no overcoats to be found from friends, I find myself fussed over in a shop of secondhand clothes. "Here's just the ticket, young man," says the storekeeper, who seems beside himself to have a customer. "Try it on." I look in the mirror and run my hands down the good English wool-- dark gray, double-breasted, with wide lapels deep pockets and a belt. I don't recognize the person smiling back at me in the mirror. He almost looks like a man. A man with money. "Is it warm?" asks my stepmum. "That's the important thing." "Oh yes," I say. Mum asks the storekeeper, "What's the cost?" "Fifteen shillings, Madam." "Fifteen! Fifteen shillings of our hard-earned money?" I knew it. Nearly a pound sterling on me? That'll never happen. I start to untie the belt. "Oh, very well," she says. "There's no getting round it. I hope you appreciate all we're doing for you, Ken." "Yes, Mum. Thank you, Mum." I follow her out with a grin on my face. This coat is probably the nicest thing I've ever owned. Excerpted from Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.