Thursday, March 10, 2011

Blizzard! by Jim Murphy

20. Blizzard!
by Jim Murphy
juvenile nonfiction, 2000
third book for the Dewey Decimal Challenge
finished, 3/9/11

Sometimes a nonfiction children's book is exactly what I want to read to learn about an historical event or person. It isn't 400 pages of details I might not be interested in. It is written in clear, simple, understandable language. It usually offers true case histories. And Blizzard! does all of these things. This is a most satisfying and interesting book about the blizzard in the northeastern United States in March 1888. It is filled with all sorts of details that will draw in a young, as well as an older reader:
Many other things were being blown about as well. Like most cities back then, New York had no antilitter laws, so newspapers, household trash, bits and pieces of debris, broken glass, and ashes were routinely tossed into the gutter without thought. Add to this a daily deposit of two and one-half million pounds of manure and 60,000 gallons of urine from the city's 60,000 horses! All of this garbage hardened into chunks that were picked up by the wind and slapped into the traveler's faces.
Jim Murphy offers true stories, with real names which really helps bring those far-off days alive to the modern reader. When someone collapses, we think of him as a real person not a statistic. The author did an incredible amount of work as is presented in the endnotes. There is a lot of documentation on this particular storm and in fact there was even a group formed called The Blizzard Men and Blizzard Ladies of 1888. He is clear about the fact that there were other horrific storms both before and after this one, but that more has been written about this because it crippled cities like New York and Washington, D.C. President Grover Cleveland and his wife were stranded at their country home 'without any way to contact his cabinet or the Congress.'

Because of this storm, big changes were made all over the country. Before it happened cities were not responsible for clearing the snow on residential streets. There were no subways. Wires were a tangled mess above ground.

The book is full of photographs and drawings from the time and there are actual pages from newspapers. It tells us of the many aspects of the storm: transportation, food, clothing, and most importantly the people. Here is an overturned train, a common occurrence during the blizzard days.

He doesn't focus on the cities alone. He tells about the problems in more rural areas as well. There's an account of children lost in the storm which reminded me of Erlendur's story in the Arnaldur Indridason books, though with a happier result. He also tells of the toll on the poor horses.

When it finally ended on March 14, it headed across the Atlantic and brought snow to northern England and other parts of Europe, and became known as 'the American Storm.'


  1. A compelling review, Nan, and a book I will seek out at some point. It is interesting how tragedies, natural and otherwise, do bring about change. I love to read children's books as well.

  2. This sounds perfect!
    I'm off to Amazon to see more.

  3. Penny and Pamela, it's a quick and easy read but nonetheless interesting for that. I hadn't heard about this storm. A really good book.

  4. Dear Nan,
    Another good book about the same terrible storm but this one is set in the American Plains is The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin. Please read it if you get the chance... it is such a sad story. Kay Guest

  5. Kay, the author mentioned this book, but as good as it may be, I don't think I could bear to read it.

  6. Jim Murphy is meticulous with his research and really pours his heart and soul into his books. I have many on my middle school library shelves...riveting reads!

  7. Since I've lived through several nasty blizzards in Illinois, this sounds very interesting.

  8. Sounds like a great book and it's heartening to hear that an author for a kids' book put a big effort into researching and writing. So much of what I see that's aimed at kids is slap-dash junk. I'll look for this one at the library. Stay dry!

  9. Sounds like a fascinating read..thanks Nan

    btw have you worked on the font? as it's displaying fine and clear to me

  10. I definitely want to read this one! Thanks for a great review and for sharing some of the pictures!

  11. Hey, did you read this one because of my review a while back?! Cool! I really loved this book as well. I learned a great deal about this time in history without getting bogged down in the details.

    I listened to the audio version so I missed out on all the photos - too bad!

  12. Staci, thanks for the great info about the author. I want to read more of his work now. Thanks.

    Kay, it is amazing because of the time when it happened. Great book.

    KSV, as Staci said, he has written other historical books with the same dedication. There's more here:

    I want to read them all.

    Val, I gave up and left it. I wonder what browser you use because it looks off to me in Safari, Firefox, and Chrome.

    Jenclair, it's so, so good.

    Heather, I'm SO glad you wrote. I added a note to my blog entry with your link!! You might want to pick up a pb copy because the pictures are really fantastic and add so much to the story. Plus, the pictures would impress your boy!

  13. Years ago I learned the value of finding children's books on such topics when I was researching early steamboats. They usually have great pictures and simple explanations of hard things for me to grasp, like how a steam engine works for instance.

  14. Rural View, that's exactly it! Thanks for coming by and leaving a note.

  15. I just came across the idea of reading children's nonfiction books for difficult concepts recently. I think it's a great idea! Not that this is a difficult concept, but that it's not bogged down in details. Those photos--wow! Hard to believe!

  16. Jen, it is such a good book. I have read a few kids' books about historical events that you might really love.They are fictional but are about true situations. Lyddie by Katherine Paterson, Bread and Roses, Too also by KP, and Counting On Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop. I wrote about the latter here:

    All three are excellent, excellent books.


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