terrorsCapstone usually does a good job with its collection of short, nonfiction graphic stories. Even if they’re not superlative art or literature, they’re readable, contain a good amount of information, and are very popular with readers. So I was quite disappointed by the lack of information and the sensationalism in this set of true survival stories.

Terrors From the Deep: True Stories of Surviving Shark Attacks starts out with a brief note about how shark attacks catch people’s attention along with some statistics on how rare shark attacks are and the much larger problem of human depredations on shark populations. There are also a few facts about sharks. Then the introduction to the stories says “Bold, quick-thinking people used their wits and courage to overcome incredible danger.” This, and the gory pages that follow, negate the impact of the previously mentioned facts about how rare shark attacks truly are and their endangered status. The stories cover the 1916 shark attacks along the New Jersey coast, an attack in 1963 on Rodney Fox who was spearfishing off the coast of Australia, and five stories of surfers and swimmers attacked in the last decade, including the well-known story of Bethany Hamilton. Each story is two to six pages long and focuses on the unexpectedness of the attack, the swimmer fighting to survive, and the gory nature of the attacks. An editor’s note at the beginning lists direct quotes, which are shown in purple, and there is a brief glossary, a few additional titles to read, and an index at the back. Each story has different color schemes, from gut-churning yellows and grays to sickening purples and greens with bubbling pink blood. There are no sources, no information about how to swim safely and avoid sharks, and only the brief information about the rarity of shark attacks at the beginning.

The next book moves from the dangers of the natural world to surviving war; Courage on the Battlefield: True Stories of Survival in the Military. Quotations in this title are in green type. The introduction is a rather vague encomium to combat soldiers’ bravery and “will to survive.” There are seven stories that include incidents in the Civil War, World War II, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the war in Afghanistan. The story from the Iraq war features a female pilot, Captain Kim Campbell. The Civil War story of John Ransom, who survived Andersonville, shows him apparently being cared for by a Native American who is never named or acknowledged. The final story is about Marcus Luttrell, who was trapped in Afghanistan and was helped to survive and escape by local villagers. Although there is frequent shooting and deaths throughout the story, no blood or scars are shown, unlike the book about shark attacks. The art consists of more straightforward graphics with an emphasis on faces, and a smoother color scheme with the panels all similar shades.

The stories return to man against the elements with Adrift and Alone: True Stories of Survival at Sea. The introduction talks about some of the challenges of being stranded at sea; the lack of water, extreme conditions, and the courage and cleverness needed to face them. The stories include those of Poon Lim, the survivor of a British warship sunk during World War II; the Robertsons, a family stranded when their boat was attacked by killer whales; and the somewhat controversial story of Jose Salvador Alvarenga, who drifted during a storm and claimed to have survived drifting across the Pacific Ocean. Some of the stories, like that of Richard Phillips, don’t include any ocean survival aspects, and others, like Bob Kidd’s, lack details about why the ships were abandoned, why did the crew die if the ship didn’t actually sink, and so on. All of the stories feature art in the same tones of turquoise and brown, making it even more difficult to tell the stories apart, since most feature very similar tales of privation, determination to survive, and the eating of raw fish.

The final title, Buried in Rubble: True Stories of Surviving Earthquakes, is better than the previous titles, but still has some issues. The introduction talks briefly about the causes and effects of earthquakes and the difficulties of rescuing victims. There are seven survival stories included. They feature a variety of people from G. A. Cain, a survivor of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, who managed to escape from a destroyed building and narrowly avoided dying in the aftermath of fires. She recorded her experiences in a lengthy letter, although little else is known about her life. Li Anning, a high school student in China in 2008, was trapped with her classmates in their school when an earthquake hit. The story says that Anning and her classmates were saved, but earlier clearly implies one of them died during the quake. Evans Monsignac was trapped in the Haiti earthquake of 2010 and the story concludes that he is “believed to be the only person to have survived being trapped so long after an earthquake without receiving food, water, or supplies from rescue workers.” Unfortunately, the text does not state how long he was trapped, only that it was “days.” The art is very different from the other titles in this series, a very loose style, all in shades of browns and dark reds, with a watercolor feel to it. This is a good fit for the chaos and destruction of the stories and shows the scope of the disasters without being too gory. The list of further reading includes titles on the science of earthquakes.

While the Graphic Library titles always feature short stories, usually a good way to entice kids into further reading on the subject, the lack of sources, extremely brief further reading sections, and the vagueness and generality of the stories makes this a less than ideal purchase. The stories would have benefited from more detail and information, and overwhelmingly feature men. Because of the lack of detail, the stories all sound very similar, especially since they’re grouped together by the same type of disaster. I Survived fans will probably be happy to pick these up and skim through them, but there are better titles out there for this age group, especially since these are only available in expensive library-bound editions.

Terrors From the Deep: True Stories of Surviving Shark Attacks
Author: Nel Yomtov
Illustrator: Narciso Espiritu
ISBN: 9781491465738

Courage on the Battlefield: True Stories of Survival in the Military
Author: Nel Yomtov
Illustrator: Thomas Girard
ISBN: 9781491465714

Adrift and Alone: True Stories of Survival at Sea
Author: Nel Yomtov
Illustrator: Pat Kinsella
ISBN: 9781491465721

Buried in Rubble: True Stories of Surviving Earthquakes
Author: Terry Collins
Illustrator: Mack Chater
ISBN: 9781491465707

Captsone, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 8-14

  • Jennifer

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, Matheson Memorial Library

    Reviewer

    Jennifer Wharton is the Youth Services Librarian at Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, Wisconsin where she maintains the juvenile and young adult graphic novel collections and was responsible for creating the library’s adult graphic novel collection. She is constantly looking for great new comics for kids and teens and new ways to incorporate graphic storytelling in programming. Jennifer blogs for preschool through middle grade at JeanLittleLibrary and has an MLS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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