The Sinking of the Vasa (Review)
Updated: Nov 21, 2020
Author: Russell Freedman
Illustrator: William Low
Publisher: Godwin Books, 2018
Interest Level: Ages 5-8
Reading Level: 5th-6th Grade, Lexile 970
Retail: $18.99, hardcover
Summary: Completed in 1628, the Vasa was supposed to be the crown jewel of Sweden's navy. Instead, it sank a mile from port on its maiden voyage. In the 1950s, the wreck was found and the ship was lifted from the ocean floor. The restored ship attracts visitors from all over the world.
Most American children have heard of the Titanic, but not the Vasa. The subtitle has a clever hook to draw children in; the subtitle is A Shipwreck of Titanic Proportions. The shipwreck is just as amazing. This book uses lavish digital illustrations, simple readable text, and a chronological story line to introduce the history of the Vasa and to create a sense of intrigue. Why did the Vasa sink?
For children who are already interested in shipwrecks and underwater archaeology, this might be a good addition to your library. It features detailed, if somewhat schematic, drawings of the ship and shows it both afloat and sunk. A large fold out illustration shows the hull in its entirety as it lay on the bottom of the sea. The artwork looks painted, but the publication details indicate they were created using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. They have a dreamy, historical quality about them.
The text is straightforward. Any adult reading this book aloud will understand immediately that the ship's problems can be tied back directly to King Gustav II Adolf who ordered its construction and demanded more firepower than the ship could safely carry. The design was unwieldy, and the ship simply tipped over in the wind. However, the story does not have this outside perspective, and the question of what went wrong is not directly revealed until the end.
The resolution of the tale is, unfortunately, a bit anticlimactic. Despite the beauty of the book, it does not have all the ingredients of a favorite bedtime story. It is good for a single read and a few closer looks at the illustrations' details. I can envision this story being read aloud to an early elementary class as part of a curriculum unit on history. The Sinking of the Vasa is would be a good addition to a museum gift store.
For children who are interested in shipwrecks and crave more of a mystery, I recommend The Mary Celeste: An Unsolved Mystery from History by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple.