Lifeboat 12

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About The Book

In the tradition of The War That Saved My Life and Stella By Starlight, this poignant novel in verse based on true events tells the story of a boy’s harrowing experience on a lifeboat after surviving a torpedo attack during World War II.

With Nazis bombing London every night, it’s time for thirteen-year-old Ken to escape. He suspects his stepmother is glad to see him go, but his dad says he’s one of the lucky ones—one of ninety boys and girls to ship out aboard the SS City of Benares to safety in Canada.

Life aboard the luxury ship is grand—nine-course meals, new friends, and a life far from the bombs, rations, and his stepmum’s glare. And after five days at sea, the ship’s officers announce that they’re out of danger.

They’re wrong.

Late that night, an explosion hurls Ken from his bunk. They’ve been hit. Torpedoed! The Benares is sinking fast. Terrified, Ken scrambles aboard Lifeboat 12 with five other boys. Will they get away? Will they survive?

Award-winning author Susan Hood brings this little-known World War II story to life in a riveting novel of courage, hope, and compassion. Based on true events and real people, Lifeboat 12 is about believing in one another, knowing that only by banding together will we have any chance to survive.

Excerpt

Lifeboat 12 SUMMER, 1940
The Envelope

I shouldn’t do it.

I know I shouldn’t.

I’ll be in trouble

if I open the large envelope

addressed to my parents.

But it’s stamped

“on His Majesty’s Service.”

It’s not every day

a family like mine

gets a letter from the King.

The clock tick, tick, ticks.

I glance down the hall

to make sure I’m alone.

I slide my finger

under the flap,

and peer inside.

Dear Sir (or Madam),

I am directed by the

Children’s Overseas Reception Scheme . . .

It’s nothing,

a dull form letter

but . . . wait!

Someone has written in my name—

your preliminary application

has been considered

by the Board and

they have decided that

KENNETH J. SPARKS

is are suitable for being

sent to . . . CANADA.

“What are you doing?”

cries my stepmum,

seizing the letter from my hands.

“That is not addressed to you.

Charles! Charles!

This cheeky son of yours

wants a good clout about the ears!”

“That letter is about me!” I say.

“You’re sending me away!”

I glare up at my father

who appears in the doorway.

My stepmum got her wish—

to get rid of me.

“Ken, let me explain,”

says my dad.

“This letter could save your life.”

The Reasons Why

They sit me down.

I shrug their hands off my shoulders

and stare at the floor,

heart slamming,

heat rising.

They talk and talk,

voices swirling in the air

rising and falling,

overlapping, interrupting,

weaving a net,

a trap,

but I’m not going

to fall for it.

I try to block them out.

I concentrate on

slowing the storm in my head.

They’re sending me away!

But hang on,

what’s that about the Germans?

“The Germans are coming,” says Dad.

“France surrendered this summer

and the Nazis are gunning

for England next.

Hundreds of thousands

of parents applied

to have their kids sent

out of harm’s way.”

“You’re lucky

to have been selected,” says Mum.

“I have a sister

in Edmonton, Canada.

You can live with her.

With your father out of work,

money is tight.

We can rent out your room

to help pay for rations.”

“Just think—sailing on a ship!” says Dad.

“It will be an adventure!

You’ll make your way in the world.

Get your head out of those books. . . .”

My books? My stories

of buccaneers and buried gold,

cowboys, braves and days of old. . . .

I snort.

Most parents would be chuffed

to have a kid who loves to read.

I read them because

they take me away . . .

far from the way I’m living.

My three-year-old sister toddles over

and rests her head on my knees.

I run my hand over her curls.

“What about Margaret?

Shouldn’t she go, too?”

“She’s too young,” says Mum.

“Only ages five through fifteen are allowed.”

At thirteen I’ll be one of the oldest.

“No adults?” I ask.

“Parents can’t go,” says my dad,

“but you’ll have escorts—

a whole staff of

doctors, nurses, teachers, priests

who are volunteering.

Yes, son, you’re one of the lucky ones.

You leave in September.

You mustn’t tell your friends,” says Dad.

“Loose lips sink ships,

you know.”

“And there will be a new overcoat for you,”

says Mum

as if that clinches the deal.

I squint up at her and think,

I’m as good as gone.

I tear out of the house.

Escape

I dash

down the streets,

down the railway line,

across the tracks,

over a fence.

There in the wall,

behind the loose brick,

I snatch my stash

of penny cannon fireworks.

I stick some in a tree,

strike a match to the fuse,

and back away.

I watch as the wick

sputters,

smokes,

sparks.

BLAM!

It makes quite a hole.

The charcoal-scented smoke wafts away

and my fury with it.

The smoke distracts me

as it does angry bees.

Let’s face it.

My stepmum has never liked me.

She calls me a terror,

a little so-and-so.

I wish my own mum

were alive.

The doctors told her

she wasn’t supposed to have children,

but she didn’t listen.

She died soon after I was born.

It’s all my fault.

But why did my dad

have to marry my nanny?

Well, I wouldn’t have Margaret otherwise. . . .

Sure, she’s a bother sometimes,

but she makes me laugh.

I think about my stepmum,

the ship, and this evacuation plan.

I feel like a hand-me-down

my stepmum doesn’t want,

so she’ll donate me to a good cause.

Forget it. I’m not going.

She won’t get rid of me that easily.

I climb over another fence,

hoist myself up a tree,

and grab an apple to eat.

She thinks I’m a terror?

Just because I like to

scrump a few apples?

My dad just says

I’m full of beans.

I can’t get away with much

or I get a clout round the ear hole

or the cane at school.

Now they want to send me away

across the ocean.

Well, I’m not going.

The New World

That’s what they call it.

Wonder what it’s like?

Everything I own

is old,

tired,

secondhand.

Well, I got a new mum,

but I’m her secondhand kid.

She makes me feel

worn,

torn,

worthless.

A New World

sounds wide open,

a chance to start my miserable life

over again.

A black ant

makes his way along the

gnarled branch

high off the ground.

He’s brave, that one.

I chew on my apple.

How can it

taste sour and sweet

at the same time?

Maybe Dad’s right. It will be an adventure . . .

far from the rations,

far from my stepmum’s scowl,

far from teacher’s cane,

far from the war . . .

’twould be folly to miss this chance.

They say I’m one of the lucky ones.

Maybe I am.

A Sea Change

A dog starts barking.

A man yells,

“Hey! You again?

Get down out of that tree.

Clear off or

I’ll have your hide!”

I pluck another apple,

jump down, and run

for the fence,

the dog at my heels.

Up and over, I make my getaway.

All the way home

I think of narrow escapes

and high adventure.

Okay, I’ll show them!

I’ll go and grow up

like the chaps in my books—

like Wart and Robin Hood.

I’ll go to sea like Jim Hawkins or Robinson Crusoe.

How long will I be gone?

Months?

Years?

Will I ever come back?

Liver Again

“Oh, you’re home now, are you?”

says my stepmum,

as I walk in the door.

“You get a little hungry

and all is forgiven.”

“Leave him be, Nora,” says my dad.

“He’s had a lot to think about.

Come on, son, let’s sit down to eat.”

Mum places a plate

of roly-poly on the table.

I’ve watched her make it before—

a bit of chopped liver

rolled up in a pastry

of flour, oatmeal, and suet.

Disgusting.

I grab a potato and say,

“I’m not hungry.”

“You will be if this rationing

gets any worse,” says Mum.

“Those Huns keep sinking

our food supply ships

and you’ll be lucky

for any scrap you get.

That’s almost the last meat for the week,

so eat up.”

“Any sweets, Mummy?”

asks Margaret.

“Yes, dear,” says Mum.

“A nice baked milk pudding

for dessert.

Now eat your roly-poly.”

Oof, I’m ready to get out of here.

Something New

I haven’t had store-bought clothes

in months . . . years maybe.

“Make do and mend,”

everyone says,

part of the war effort.

I wear hand-me-downs

from cousins and neighbors,

patched, faded, worn, torn,

with stains that won’t come out,

with arms too long,

legs too short.

But it’s cold in Canada,

says my stepmum.

With no overcoats

to be found from friends,

I find myself fussed over

in a shop of secondhand clothes.

“Here’s just the ticket, young man,”

says the storekeeper,

who seems beside himself

to have a customer.

“Try it on.”

I look in the mirror

and run my hands

down the good English wool—

dark gray,

double-breasted,

with wide lapels

deep pockets and a belt.

I don’t recognize the person

smiling back at me in the mirror.

He almost looks like a man.

A man with money.

“Is it warm?” asks my stepmum.

“That’s the important thing.”

“Oh yes,” I say.

Mum asks the storekeeper,

“What’s the cost?”

“Fifteen shillings, Madam.”

“Fifteen! Fifteen shillings

of our hard-earned money?”

I knew it.

Nearly a pound sterling on me?

That’ll never happen.

I start to untie the belt.

“Oh, very well,” she says.

“There’s no getting round it.

I hope you appreciate

all we’re doing for you, Ken.”

“Yes, Mum.

Thank you, Mum.”

I follow her out

with a grin on my face.

This coat is probably the nicest thing

I’ve ever owned.

About The Author

Photograph courtesy of the author

Susan Hood has written more than 200 picture books. She has received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist, and her book Spike, The Mixed-Up Monster won the 2013 International Latino Award and was selected for the Charlotte Zolotow Highly Commended List. The Tooth Mouse was named a 2013 Best Book of the Year by Bank Street and the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Prior to becoming an author, Susan was a children’s magazine editor at Scholastic and Instructor Magazine, a book editor at Sesame Workshop, and the Children’s Content Director of Nick Jr. MagazineAda’s Violin is her latest nonfiction picture book and Lifeboat 12 is her first novel in verse. Visit her at SusanHoodBooks.com/Home.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (September 2018)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781481468831
  • Grades: 3 - 8
  • Ages: 8 - 13
  • Lexile ® 610L

Raves and Reviews

"This page-turning true-life adventure is filled with rich and riveting details and a timeless understanding of the things that matter most.”

– Dashka Slater, author of The 57 Bus

* "This stirring novel-in-verse based on a true story is an edge-of-your-seat survival tale, an extensively researched work of historical fiction, and an exemplar of the form."

– School Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

"Brilliantly told in verse, readers will love Ken Sparks."

– Patricia Reilly Giff, two-time Newbery Honor winner

"Told in verse, the story of LIFEBOAT 12 is lyrical, terrifying, and even at times funny. A richly detailed account of a little-known event in World War II."

– Kirkus Reviews

A Junior Library Guild Selection

"Middle-grade Titanic fans, here’s your next read."

– BCCB

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