Blizzard!

Jacket• Grade Range: 5th-10th
• History related title
• Author: Jim Murphy
• Title: Blizzard! : The Storm that Changed America
• Publisher: New York, Scholastic
• 2000
• 136 pages.
• ISBN: 978-590-67309-2
• Awards: ALA Robert F. Sibert Honor Book for Outstanding Nonfiction~The Jefferson Cup Award~An ALA Notable Book~An ALA Best Books for Young People~Hornbook Fanfare Book~A SLJ Best Book~A BCCB Blue Ribbon Book~A CBC/NCSS Notable Book
• Author’s website: http://www.jimmurphybooks.com/

In early spring 1888 a mammoth winter storm paralyzed the East coast for four days. Detailed personal stories create a gripping narrative and reveal the scope of the disaster. Murphy outlines the epic storm’s importance in prompting municipal and national reforms designed to mitigate catastrophes.

Murphy deftly layers first person and primary source accounts, creating an exciting narrative of the blizzard and its devastating effect. Time is collapsed and the reader feels an intimate connection to people 126 years ago as we read detailed descriptions of their thoughts and actions as they fight for their lives. Lots of photographs, maps and period drawings provide a powerful sense of the scope of the storm. As in all disasters there are examples of great kindness, heroism and folly; we marvel at the role luck plays and the insignificant moments that manage to make all the difference. Blizzard will appeal to those who are fascinated by dramatic disaster narratives, but provides insight beyond a simple man versus nature tale. Disasters push individuals past their limits but also push communities to adapt and change.

Murphy deepens the story beyond the roller-coaster ride of human struggle for existence. He ties public dismay over the disruption and devastation the storm wrought, to important local and municipal reforms. Laws to bury electric and communication wires were enforced, spurred by the experiences of witnessing gruesome electrocutions and being cut off from outside information. In New York, Boss Tweed’s cynical blockage of a subway system was finally swept aside as the public demanded a more weatherproof form of public transportation. Cities began to take seriously keeping streets clear of debris and took responsibility for snow removal. On the Federal level the attitude towards weather forecasting changed: an organizational shake-up occurred, operations became a seven-day-a-week proposition and investment in research began. Most importantly officials and the public began to realize that urbanization and modernization were no protection from natural disasters; paradoxically, the advantages of modern interconnection made natural disasters worse: cutting off large dependent populations from essentials such as food, transportation and heat.

Murphy provides a table of contents and titles his chapters from first person accounts: giving readers a vivid sense of what to expect. At the end of the book is a six page narrative discussion of notes on sources and related reading material. Murphy begins with an author’s note about a frightening childhood blizzard experience, which informs his perspective. Anecdotal notes and an annotated bibliography provide a sense of the character and usefulness of sources, which are grouped according to the aspect of the narrative they informed: individual’s stories, historical background, weather related material, New York City particulars, food and coal shortages and effects on the poor and homeless. A detailed index completes the text. Image sources appear directly below each image.

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