DetailsSunday, June 30, 1912 was a very hot day in Regina, Saskatchewan. Late that afternoon, two ominous black clouds appeared on the southern horizon--then, suddenly, the funnel cloud of an awesome tornado!
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ISBN 9781894431712 Publication Date May 1, 2012 Author James, Warren Illustrator Reimer, Carly Pages 40 Size 8.00″ x 8.00″
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This year, 2012, marks the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, but that ship’s sinking was certainly not the only disaster that occurred a century ago. Although the deaths connected with the story told by Warren James in Cyclone! numbered only 28, as opposed to the 1514 deaths that resulted from the Titanic’s sinking, for those immediately impacted by the events in Regina, the personal tragedy was certainly no less painful.
Each pair of facing pages in Cyclone! contains a full-page illustration plus a page of text. James’ very brief text is printed in sepia on a black, sepia-bordered background that resembles the way that text would have been presented on the screen in the days of silent movies. James relates the event in an essentially chronological fashion, beginning with people enjoying a warm late June day by visiting the lakeside park that is adjacent to the province’s legislative building, then just recently completed. Late in the afternoon, the tornado strikes and, in just five minutes, wreaks its damage on Regina’s property and people.
Since the book utilizes a picture book format which suggests an early years audience, James concentrates more on the property damage than on the harm done to humans. For example, on page 15, he says:
It [the tornado] sucked up tons of water, a canoe and two boys from Wascana Lake!
Though the text does not address the boys’ fate, the illustration on p. 18 shows the canoe on land and the boy in the bow is obviously still alive. Since the stern of the canoe is not visible, it is possible then that the other boy also survived.
Similarly, James relates that “Newlyweds Frank and Bertha Blenkorn [sic] had missed the maiden voyage of the Titanic...but a whim of Fate put them in the path of the tornado!” Again, young readers can choose to believe that the pair survived. On the next text page, James is more explicit regarding some individuals’ fate:
The Telephone Exchange was demolished.
The switchboard fell into the basement...with
the operators still in their chairs!
Since Cyclone! is a work of nonfiction, it doesn’t have “characters”, but, for continuity, illustrator Carly Reimer has an unnamed boy appearing in half of her illustrations, including the last one that presents him as on old man, remembering. Overall, Reimer’s unsophisticated illustrations lean heavily on a palette of shades of red and black to effectively capture the movement and violence of this weather event.
The book’s last four pages present the “hard” facts of that June day’s events. The first of these pages, captioned “In Memoriam”, lists the names of the 28 people who were the tornado’s victims. “Notes”, the remaining three pages of two column text, fill in the facts connected to book’s earlier pages of text. For instance, regarding what happened to the two boys who had been canoeing, readers learn:
It [the tornado] sucked up tons of water, a canoe and two boys from Wascana Lake! p.14-15: The funnel cloud turned into a gigantic waterspout as it strode across Lake Wascana. The Tornadoes of Western Canada says it sucked up half-a-million tons of water, reducing the water level of the lake by two feet. According to Frank W. Anderson, the waterspout is also supposed to have seized a canoe carrying two 11-year-old boys, Bruce Langston and Philip Steele, sending it whirling through the skies. Philip was killed, but Bruce was found seated in the cane near present day College Avenue [see p. 18], unconscious but still holding onto his paddle.
As to the fate of the newlyweds, the Blenkhorns, who had literally missed the Titanic's maiden voyage, did not escape death a second time.
It is the “Notes” section that caused me to suggest an audience for the book that extended into middle school as these few pages present the full “tough” reality of that June day.
Though I have lived on the Prairies my entire life and even had family living in Regina, I was unaware that the Queen City had once been impacted by a tornado. Bravo to James for bringing this bit of that province’s history to the attention of today’s readers. While Cyclone! will likely be of most interest to Saskatchewan’s schools and libraries, it would be a worthwhile addition to any library collection.