The Great Molasses Flood by Deborah Kops

Great Molasses FloodCharlesbridge, 2012 1st paperback edition 2015.

In January of 1919 a disaster occurred in Boston that is almost hard to imagine today. A huge tank—filled with over two million gallons of molasses—burst, damaging the elevated train tracks, lifting buildings off their foundations, and carrying pedestrians and workers into Boston Harbor. Eleven people died and forty were injured. Buildings were destroyed. Clean up took weeks, but the investigation into what happened and who was responsible would drag on for years.

Deborah Kops has written an interesting account of this bizarre accident. She spends just enough time orienting readers to the neighborhood, the people, and the times of the incident. She details the effects of the tragedy, setting them squarely in facts that help readers understand the times. For example, the ambulance drivers were women, for though World War I was over, the troops had not yet returned from Europe.

The Great Molasses Flood follows some of the children and adults involved from the time before the incident through to the years after the case was settled. Period photographs and a beautifully drawn map of the neighborhood help readers understand the details even better.  Sidebars present additional information about the 18th Amendment, women’s suffrage, the history of Boston’s North End, and other important historical information that will help readers further understand the story.

One aspect of the book I appreciated most was the way the hearing was presented. During her research Kops waded through 25,000 pages of transcripts to bring the most interesting information about the people we’d been following. She also presented the testimony in a way that was informative about the justice system but also left readers wondering how it would all come out.

This was a truly enjoyable middle grade nonfiction read. I’d heard only a little about this incident before reading the book. I’m glad to know more about it now.

I read the electronic ARC of The Great Flood courtesy of Charlesbridge and NetGalley.

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