I Survived: The Wellington Avalanche, 1910 by Lauren Tarshis

I Survived the Wellington Avalanche, 1910

Lauren Tarshis, Author

Scott Dawson, Illustrator

Scholastic, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Sep. 6, 2022

Pages: 144

Suitable for ages: 8-12 (reading level Grade 4)

Themes: Avalanche, Trains, Survival, Wellington, Orphans, Gangsters, Theft

Publisher’s Synopsis:

The Wellington snow slide of 1910 was―and still is―the deadliest avalanche in America’s history. 

The snow is coming down faster than train crews can clear the tracks, piling up in drifts 20 feet high. In a tiny town in the Cascade Mountains, Janie Pryor — and the other passengers trapped on the Seattle Express train – wait for the horrific blizzard to end.

One day passes, then two. three…six days. Secretly, Janie doesn’t mind being stuck on the mountain. She’s safe from the brutal gangsters chasing after her. And so far, nobody on the train knows about the stolen jewels Janie has sewn in a hidden pocket of her coat. And for the first time since her parents death, she’s enjoying sleeping in a warm bed and eating food.

At the Wellington train depot in the Cascade Mountains  two trains sat stranded, blocked in by snow slides to the east and west. Some male passengers brave the storm to make the treacherous hike off the mountain to a town called Scenic. They send word for no one to follow, it’s too dangerous. Many passengers have no choice but to wait out the storm, because of age or they have children.

Then, just after midnight on March 1,the snow turns to rain and  a lightning storm strikes the mountain, sending a ten-foot-high wave of snow barreling down the mountain. The trains tumbled 150 feet. 96 people are dead. Janie sees it coming an runs, but is buried in a ferocious wave of snow, giant rocks and train parts. Can she make it out alive?

The Wellington avalanche forever changed railroad engineering. 

Why I like this book/series:

I Survived: The Wellington Avalanche, 1910, is a  gripping survival story that will thrill readers with its heart-pounding action.  Tarshis’s snappy text moves along at quick pace, encouraging her audience to keep reading. Scott Dawson’s expressive illustrations add to the tension of the story. Just read the opening paragraph: 

RRRRRRRooooooor! The earsplitting explosion shook the ground. Eleven-year–old Janie Pryor swung her head around and stared in horror. The mountain above her seemed to have shattered apart. A massive wave of icy snow was crashing down. An avalanche!” 

This book is a excellent way to teach young readers about different events in history, narrated by someone their own age. I am impressed with the amount of research that goes into this piece of historical fiction. Readers will learn about how avalanches form, how poorly the railway system was at the turn of the century, the placement of tracks too close to cliffs and the inability to track weather conditions. They will also learn about how this disaster led to railway changes.

Janie’s story represents another interesting part of history — the plight of the thousands of children who are orphans. Janie’s parents are killed in an accident and she is on her own. Many end up in deplorable orphanages, work houses, begging on the streets, stealing, and sleeping in alleys. Janie is snagged to work for criminals, like Ray Malvo, who force her to deliver stolen jewels by train and watch her every move. Her storyline is interesting in the book and kids will cheer for her.

What they won’t learn in this story is survival techniques. Perhaps there weren’t techniques, like today. Janie only hears the mountain explode and runs as fast as she can to save her life before she is buried in snow, ice and debris.  However, the author does use a technique in her story to show how Janie finds the will to live until she is rescued.  

This the 22nd book in the ” I Survived” middle grade series. The reading level is set at fourth grade. So it is certainly the perfect series to hand to a reluctant readers. 

Make sure you check out the backmatter, which include many photographs of the real-life places that inspired Janie’s story. Readers will get to see inside the trains, newspapers articles. photographs of the crash sites and information about from the author about writing the story.

Lauren Tarshis’s New York Times bestselling I Survived series tells stories of young people and their resilience and strength in the midst of unimaginable disasters and times of turmoil. Lauren has brought her signature warmth and exhaustive research to topics such as the battle of D-Day, the American Revolution, Hurricane Katrina, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Shark Attacks, the California Wildfires, the Attacks on September 11, 2001 and other world events. She lives in Connecticut with her family, and can be found online at laurentarshis.com.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Make sure you check out the many links to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.