Monday, April 6, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: September 17

I think I learn most of the history I know from reading fiction! I really enjoyed this fictionalized story about the plan to save children from the bombings in Britain during World War II. This book is another one of the nominees for the Ontario Library Association’s Silver Birch Award.

Here’s the Amazon description:

In July 1940, a British government-sponsored program called Children's Overseas Reception Board -- or CORB -- was set up to send children from Britain to Canada and other Commonwealth countries, in order to rescue them from the bombings of British cities. The City of Benares was a luxury liner that was recruited in September 1940 to transport 90 of these children to Canada, along with the ship's regular passenger complement. A convoy of ships including The Benares set off from Liverpool in mid-September and approximately six hundred miles out, after the naval escorts had withdrawn, the ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank in about half an hour. Only thirteen of the CORB children survived the sinking. As a result of this tragedy, the program was cancelled.

September 17 is a novel that tells the story of three of the children that were on board the City of Benares, as they experience and survive the disaster and wait to be rescued. One lifeboat was not picked up by the destroyer sent to make the rescue, and was at sea with 46 passengers, children and adults for eight days until it was picked up near the Irish coast. Two teenaged girls held onto an overturned lifeboat for 18 hours before they were picked up, while another family, including two children not on the CORB program, floated on a tiny raft for hours before being rescued. The characters whose adventures are described are all real, though some conversations and encounters have been fictionalized by author Amanda Lewis.

September 17 by Amanda West Lewis, Red Deer Press, Markham, Ontario, 2013.

My Take:

It was so interesting to learn about the City of Benares and the CORB experiment, and how children might have reacted and experienced the events! I found the book a little slow to get started, but this changed as the trip got underway. There were quite a few characters to keep track of, but they all had different stories and perspectives.

From a writer’s perspective, I’d look closely at how actual facts were embedded into the story to make a compelling narrative.

Opening Line:

“A heavy clod of wet earth fell on Ken’s head. His hands began to shake.”


“He’d been so focused on drawing that he’d forgotten completely where he was.”

“As she stood staring out over the concrete breakers, she imagined the German boats landing on her beach that wasn’t a beach anymore.”

“The raft soared up to the top of each wave and then came smashing down, slamming their bodies with the impact.”

“There was no moon, and the stars covered every part of the sky and were reflected in every part of the water. He was living in a bowl of stars.”

Other Info:

Amanda West Lewis has written five books for young people. She enjoys many different creative pursuits such as writing, directing theatre, and calligraphy. She is the artistic director of the Ottawa Children’s Theatre.

She is married to author Tim Wynne-Jones.

On her website, Amanda West Lewis says, "As a writer, I love the extraordinary complexity, subtlety and magic of language."

Looking for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books? Visit Shannon Messenger’s blog for a list of bloggers reviewing great books today! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the Keeper of the Lost Cities series.


  1. Sounds like an interesting historical story. Not heard of it before. Thanks.

  2. Putting this on my to read list. An interesting facet of WWII that isn't much covered!

  3. I'll second Natalie's comment about this story being new to me. Very tragic but perfect for a survival story. Thanks for sharing. I'm going to look for this one.

  4. I love that image of living in a bowl of stars. Thanks for sharing this. I didn't know anything about CORB or the City of Benares luxury liner and the sinking. Isn't it fun to learn history from reading fiction?

  5. I'll be honest. I've never enjoyed learning history, but I have to admit...this sounds like interesting book! Thanks for the review! I'll totally keep an eye out for this one! :-)

  6. I do love historical fiction. This one sounds really interesting. Thanks for the review.

  7. My first reaction was "how horrible that a ship full of children would be torpedoed." It underlines yet again the absolute horror of war.

    Having said that, it sounds like a very interesting read, and I am a huge fan of Amanda West Lewis' husband!


I love to hear your responses and thoughts! Your comments will appear after moderation (I’ve decided to enable moderation due to excessive spam).