“I Need a Book about the Titanic” by Lucretia Brattin

One subject in history has it all:  tragedy, mystery, mayhem, social classes, celebrities, science and romance.  I am referring to the story of the Titanic. In our school the “official” study of the Titanic begins in the fourth grade reading anthology.  Students read the short story Finding the Titanic by Robert D. Ballard.  This story begins each student’s quest for everything Titanic.


titanic making of a doomed shipBefore I became our school’s librarian, I taught 4th grade.  Because of this I am aware that fourth grade students will be asking for books about the Titanic. Even though we have several books in the library about this subject, I’m always on the lookout for more.  Recently, I came across a new book by Sean McCollum, Building the Titanic: The Making of a Doomed Ship.   Sean McCollum has written over 30 books in the non-fiction genre for intermediate level students.  He is a former editor at Scholastic.

I was able to interview him by email regarding his thoughts about the Titanic.  His answers to my questions follow:


Question:  Why did you choose to write about the Titanic?


Sean McCollum:  I had written about shipwrecks in the past.  My publisher, Capstone, approached me to contribute one book to a four-part series about Titanic.  I specifically chose to write the first in the series because I knew so little about the construction process.  It was a wonder of the world.


Question:  Why do you think the Titanic still fascinates readers?


Sean McCollum:  The story of Titanic is a fascinating drama on so many levels.  The supreme irony of such a great ship going down on its maiden voyage, the hubris of sailing at such high speeds in icy waters as well as the limited number of lifeboats, the mix of the wealthiest people of the day along with the poor immigrants traveling in steerage-all of these contribute to a  complex and heart-rending story.  There are so many “What ifs?”  I think, too, that people remain fascinated because they wonder:  “What would I have done under those circumstances?  How brave would I have been as the ship began to sink?”


Question:  Do you think there is anything that we do not know, or perhaps some mystery about the Titanic that is still not solved?


Sean McCollum:  I think the big questions have all been answered at this point.  The research in the last 10 years that suggests the rivets in the plating may have been substandard iron has helped answer the question about why the ship went down so quickly.  One aspect that is sometimes lost in the event itself is how many improvements to regulations that were made in the aftermath regarding construction, lifeboat requirements, and the use of wireless as a safety feature.



Some features of the book include a comparison of other large ships that were being built in the same time frame as the Titanic. Only two of these five large Ocean-liners built ever saw much service. Three of them sank before or during World War I.  The two that remained were retired in the early 1930’s.  Mr. McCollum also gives specific information about the inner workings of the propulsion system and the hull.



I think the information that Sean McCollum has presented in his book, Building the Titanic: the Making of a Doomed Ship will increase the student’s desire for knowledge about how science and math are involved in creating these types of vessels.  As teachers we are always looking for cross-curricular connections.  This content can definitely be the catalyst those discussions.


Lucretia Brattin is a K-12 Librarian in the Missouri Ozarks.  Over her 22 year career, she has taught 1st grade, 4th grade, Junior High English and High School English.  She brings this experience of multiple grade levels with her to the library.  Lucretia blogs about books and teaching and other things at mrsbrattinreadsandwrites.blogspot.com  and she can be found on Twitter @LucretiaBrattin.