Iron Thunder: The Battle Between
Monitor and the Merrimac
Author: Avi; Illustrator: C.B. Mordon
Pages: 203
Publisher/Date: Hyperion Books for Children/2007
Age Levels: 8-12

Book Review

Note: This is the first title in a new series, I Witness.

When his father is killed in a Civil War battle, thirteen-year-old Tom Carroll finds himself working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard for Captain John Ericsson in order to help support his family. Ericsson is building an iron ship named the Monitor. Known as "Ericcson’s Folly," the ironclad is seen by some as "the iron coffin."

As work progresses, Tom is approached by Confederate spies trying to gain information about the ship. Tom manages to escape the spies, but soon finds himself living aboard the ship in order to remain safe.

After testing the ship in the East River, adjustments are made to ready her for battle—a battle with the Confederate ironclad, the Merrimac, at Hampton Roads, Virginia. On the way to Virginia, the Monitor encounters a harrowing storm which almost sinks the ship. The Monitor and her crew arrive to find the Merrimac has destroyed the Union ships the Congress and the Columbia. When the southern ironclad threatens the remaining Union ship, the Minnesota, the Monitor prepares for combat.

Through Tom’s eyes, readers are able to witness history in the making:
We took up anchorage behind the Minnesota. Just sat there waiting for the Merrimac to steam back into the Road from the Elizabeth River, where she’d gone for the night. Like a sea monster in its lair, I thought. When she came up, she wouldn’t see us. Not at first.

Did I want her to return?

I was scared, I mean, I had no experience of deadly battle. Was the Monitor going to be Erricson’s Folly? Or was she going to teach them Rebs a lesson? I knew what was strong about her—how different she was, her iron-plated turret, her two great guns, her crew.

But we had almost sunk. We had almost abandoned her.
The battle lasted for four hours until the Merrimac finally retreated.
Seeing the Merrimac retreat, knowing that the Minnesota was safe, the Monitor pulled toward the town of Newport News. As we nosed toward town, folk and soldiers cheered and hurrahed. It felt like the whole world had come to see us. Pretty soon our deck was crowded with generals and officers congratulating us on our victory, treating us like heroes.

I guess we were.
The book is beautifully designed—from the typeface to the endpapers—evoking a feeling of times past. The pen-and-ink illustrations by C.B. Mordon, as well as the period photographs, etchings, and newspaper headlines are the perfect accompaniment to this well-written text. Deftly weaving historical details through Tom’s gripping, first-person narrative, Avi does a splendid job of bringing to life a pivotal point in Civil War history.

A glossary, author’s note, and bibliography are appended.

Reviewed by the teachers at Education Oasis
©2007 Education Oasis

About the Author

An acclaimed author and reader favorite, Avi has written more than sixty books for young people. He lives with his family in Colorado.

About the Illustrator

C.B. Mordon is a professional artist. He lives with his wife and two children in Kansas.


Be sure to visit Avi's website.