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Review of The Sinking of the Vasa

The Sinking of the Vasa
by Russell Freedman; illus. by William Low
Primary, Intermediate    Godwin/Holt    40 pp.    g
8/18    978-1-62779-866-2    $18.99

Freedman (posthumously) tells the story of the Swedish warship Vasa, from its tragic sinking to its eventual recovery and restoration as a museum piece. Sweden’s King Gustav II Adolf commissioned the Vasa, intended to be the greatest warship of its day, in the early seventeenth century. Equipped with sixty-four bronze cannons and decorated with “hundreds of painted and gilded sculptures and carvings,” the top-heavy, armament-laden vessel sank less than a mile out of Stockholm’s harbor during its maiden voyage. A lengthy inquest targeted the captain, crew, and shipbuilder, but no one was punished for the disaster (especially not the king). In the mid-twentieth century, scientists rediscovered the wreck of the Vasa and successfully raised it from the water. Freedman’s clear prose conveys facts and paints a picture with equal skill. “The Vasa lay at the bottom of the harbor, her rigging a playground for fish, her sails waving lazily with the currents, her body littered with the skeletons of those who had perished.” Atmospheric digital illustrations portray the doomed vessel as both a brightly colored flagship and a skeletal wreck. Low’s most spectacular contribution is a four-page gatefold of the raising of the Vasa from the ocean floor. This winning combination of engrossing narrative and evocative illustration should appeal to fans of shipwreck stories, history, and undersea archaeology. A brief list of sources is appended.

From the July/August 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: ALA Awards.

About Russell Perry

Russell Perry is editorial assistant of The Horn Book Guide.

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