2019 Winner of the Connecticut Book Award!


Based on a true WWII story

Simon and Schuster 

978-1-5344-2782-2.  $17.99

978-1-4814-6884-8.  $  8.99 ppbk  

A Junior Library Guild Selection

2019 Winner of the SCBWI Golden Kite Award

2019 NCTE Charlotte Huck Award Recommended Title


This debut middle grade novel-in-verse is based on a true, but little-known WWII disaster. It tells the story of a boy’s harrowing experience on a lifeboat after surviving a Nazi torpedo attack.

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.

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?

This riveting novel of courage, hope, and compassion is based on copious research of the true events and author interviews with the real Ken Sparks and his fellow survivors. Includes historical photos. 


In the end, Lifeboat 12 is about believing in one another, knowing that only by banding together will we have any chance to survive.


Now available in paperback and as an audiobook

Kirkus Reviews

"An escape from war-torn Britain becomes a struggle for survival when a ship is torpedoed off the coast of England. Told in verse, the story of Lifeboat 12 is lyrical, terrifying, and even at times funny. Hood makes effective use of line breaks and punctuation to wrap readers up in Ken’s tale. Copious research, including interviews with the real Ken Sparks, went into the making of this fictional recasting of a true story of survival. Backmatter offers further information, including the racism experienced by the Lascars. A richly detailed account of a little-known event in World War II."(Historical verse fiction. 9-12)

School Library Journal (starred review)

redstar Gr 4-7 –It’s 1940, the beginning of the Blitz, and 13-year-old Kenneth Sparks is selected to go to Canada as part of a program to send British children to the safety of the U.K.’s overseas dominions. When his ship is torpedoed, Kenneth, five other boys from the program, and about 40 adults make it aboard Lifeboat 12, one of the only lifeboats remaining after the evening’s gale-force winds. Together, they must survive the North Atlantic in a boat with limited supplies. Evocative verse perfectly captures the horror of their situation, the agonizing disappointment of near-rescues, and the tedium of daily life aboard a cramped lifeboat. For example, immediately following the shipwreck, Kenneth spies the red rocking horse that had been in the children’s playroom floating in the wreckage: “It rears up from the sea,/the red horse of war,/its mouth open,/silently screaming/at all it sees,/rocking up and down/in the waves,/past the bodies of those/I now know/are already/dead.” Adding to the appeal of this work is an exceptionally well-curated and organized array of back matter that includes an author’s note, a nonfiction account of the real-life Lifeboat 12, photos, an essay on the author’s sources and research technique, and documented source notes for a significant amount of the book’s dialogue. VERDICT 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.

–Eileen Makoff, P.S. 90 Edna Cohen School, NY
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"Thirteen-year-old Ken Sparks is convinced his father underappreciates him and his stepmother hates him, so when the air-raid sirens start sending Brits scurrying for bomb shelters during the Blitz, Ken decides it might not be so bad to board a ship to safety in Canada through the Children’s Overseas Reception Board. At the very least, it will be an adventure. Supplied with minimal personal items and an excellent—and expensive—second-hand overcoat, he gets on the train with other refugee kids, waits in an orphanage for their transport ship to arrive, and finally boards the City of Benares, a commercial vessel boasting luxuries most of these children never dreamed of. Feasting on mountains of food, served by attentive waiters and stewards, playing with stacks of toys acquired for the journey, most revel in their surprising new circumstances. Unfortunately, when a German torpedo, far from U-boats’ usual hunting grounds strikes in the night, the party turns to tragedy. Running back to his cabin for his prized overcoat, Ken misses his assigned lifeboat and is crammed into Number 12, a chance action that sends him to drift for days in the open sea but ultimately saves his life. Hood bases her verse novel on the actual experiences of Ken Sparks, whom she interviewed, along with other survivors. The true-life survival story will be a draw for fans of maritime adventure, and the succinct poetry format and tight focus on a single central character make the pages fly by. End matter includes a nonfiction summary of the event, as well as details on the ship, print and multimedia resources, quotation sources, and a particularly enlightening essay on the difficulty in researching the ship’s Lascar sailors, victims and heroes among them, who drifted into historical obscurity. Middle-grade Titanic fans, here’s your next read."