New Eastland Book Available! Sylvia's Story by Susan Barwick

New Eastland Book Available! Sylvia's Story by Susan Barwick

With only 32 days until the 100th Anniversary Commemoration, I’m excited to bring you news of a new Eastland book, written especially for young readers (and their teachers) by award-winning educator and Chicagoland native, Susan Barwick. Sylvia’s Story, The 1915 Chicago River Tragedy of the SS Eastland was inspired by Susan’s personal connection to the disaster. The Sylvia of the title was Susan’s grandmother, Sylvia Kase Zender, who was twelve at the time of the Eastland. Young Sylvia was to attend the 1915 Western Electric Employee Picnic with her two older sisters, Della and Alice, both employees of the Hawthorne Works in Cicero where the family lived.

The story is told from the enthusiastic point-of-view of Sylvia, who anxiously awaits her big adventure aboard the majestic Eastland. But Della and Alice were running late that morning and the three Kase sisters arrived just as the Eastland reached maximum capacity. Turned away at the gangplank, they were told to board the second ship in line, the SS Theodore Roosevelt. But as they waited to board the Teddy Roosevelt, something terrible happened. And they were there to witness all the horror.

Susan heard her grandmother tell her Eastland story only once, but once was enough to spark Susan’s imagination. As a teacher, Susan wanted her students to know about and remember the Eastland. But material for middle-graders (4th – 6th grades) is scarce, so Susan decided to take matters into her own hands and write a book herself. But not only did she write a book, she collaborated with Mary G. Furlong, to add an original song. Lyrics and music for Sylvia’s Song by Furlong are part of the book as well as detailed information for middle-grade teachers on Common Core Standards and Goals.

Sylvia’s Story is a delight to read and as a former teacher, I truly appreciated the additional resources and activities. This is a perfect read for the middle-grader in your life. A wonderful way to bring the tale of the Eastland to life in a way that is sensitive yet memorable for any ten-year-old. As you make your plans to attend the upcoming Commemoration, why not share this book in advance with your children? Who knows, maybe they’ll share it with a friend and that friend might share it with another friend, and maybe, just maybe details of the Eastland disaster will spread through a whole new generation. Wouldn’t Sylvia be proud?

In my next post, we’ll meet the author, Susan Barwick. As always, Remember the 844!

Sylvia’s Story – The 1915 Chicago River Tragedy of the SS Eastland by Susan Barwick

CD of Sylvia’s Song available at

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