HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: I Survived The Shark Attacks of 1916
Author: Lauren Tarshis
Illustrator: Scott Dawson
Publisher: Scholastic, 2010
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 7 – 10
Rating: **** 4 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Tarshis, Lauren. I Survived The Shark Attacks of 1916 (published in 2010 by Scholastic Inc., 557 Broadway, New York City, NY 10012). Ten year old Chet Rostow is living for a year with his Uncle Jerry who runs a diner in Elm Hills, NJ, while his parents are in California so that his dad can look for work. The Rostows had moved around a lot as his father was always chasing some new business idea like selling motorcars in Oregon, building bicycles in St. Louis, and taking family portraits in Philadelphia. Chet never had much chance to make friends before, but here in Elm Hills during the summer he is working for his uncle and is invited to go swimming in nearby Matawan Creek with some boys whom he had met in school named Dewey, Sid, and Monty. The three friends play a trick on newcomer Chet by pretending that there’s a shark in the creek. But then one day, after getting to the swimming hole first, Chet sees something in the creek. He’s sure it’s his imagination until he actually comes face-to-face with a bloodthirsty shark!
What happens to Chet? Will somebody else see the shark? And does anyone get hurt? At first, it is difficult to know what is fact and fiction in the book. The author notes, “Though the characters in my book are made up, the major events of the story are true.” There was a series of shark attacks along the New Jersey shore, between July 1 and 12, 1916, in which four people were killed and one injured. On July 1 at Beach Haven on Long Beach Island off the southern coast of New Jersey, Charles Epting Vansant, 25, of Philadelphia, bled to death following a shark attack. The second major attack occurred on July 6, 45 miles north of Beach Haven at the resort town of Spring Lake, NJ, and the victim was Charles Bruder, 27. The next two major attacks took place in Matawan Creek near the town of Keyport, located 30 miles north of Spring Lake, on July 12, when Lester Stilwell, 11, and Watson Stanley Fisher, 24, who was trying to save the boy, were both bitten by a shark and died. These are all mentioned in the book via newspaper reports. The fifth and final victim, Joseph Dunn, 14, of New York City was attacked a half-mile from where the fatal attacks on Stilwell and Fisher occurred, but Dunn was rescued by his brother and a friend after a vicious tug-of-war battle with the shark.
Apparently, Tarshis’s story is based on this last incident. The common euphemism “heck” and the requisite profanity “O my God” occur, and Uncle Jerry smokes a pipe. There is not much else that is objectionable, but especially sensitive youngsters may wince a bit at the mild gore. A whole slew of these “I Survived” books exists, including the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912; Hurricane Katrina, 2005; the Attacks of September 11th, 2001 (#6); the Bombing of Pearl Harbor, 1941 (#4); the San Francisco Earthquake, 1906 (#5); the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863 (#7); the Japanese Tsunami, 2011 (#8); the Nazi Invasion, 1944 (#9); the Great Chicago Fire, 1871 (#11); the Joplin Tornado, 2011 (#12); the Hindenburg Disaster, 1937 (#13); the Eruption of Mount St. Helens, 1980 (#14); the American Revolution, 1776 (#15); the Children’s Blizzard, 1888 (#16); the Attack of the Grizzlies, 1967 (#17); the Battle of D-Day, 1944 (#18); and the Destruction of Pompeii, AD 79. Tarshis also has some similar collections of “I Survived True Stories” such as Five Epic Disasters (#1); Nature Attacks! (#2); and Tornado Terror (#3).