Inspired by stories of an old black man who heroically rescued two children during the catastrophic Galveston hurricane in 1900, a spellbinding survival tale in which the details of the disaster and other historical events are true, but the characters are fictional. The Carrolls struggle to make ends meet on a coastal farm. Papa left the sea to marry diminutive Lillie, but she has been silent and withdrawn since the death of a son a year ago, despite the birth of a new baby. Walter, 13, had adult responsibilities, and even little Alice must tend the family chickens. When old Tom camps out nearby, Mama and Papa accept the local wisdom: he's crazy, possibly dangerous, certainly a chicken thief. But Alice and Walter become his friends and hear his story: born a slave, he was son of pirate lean Lafitte, who sold both him and his mother; later, Tom's wife and children were sold, and he never saw them again. When the storm begins, Papa is caught in Galveston. Remembering his own children, Tom warns the Carrolls to seek shelter; in a harrowing scene, Lillie insists that the house her husband built will stand safe; but when Walter and Alice rally to Tom's support, she capitulates, and the five make their tortuous way through the deepening sea to the safety of the lighthouse. Nelson's strong sense of place, poetic style and inspired characterization make this far more than just an enthralling adventure; each detail, from the brother, sister bond strengthened by Lillie's grief to Tom's poignant gift to Alice of his mother's locket, so that the children will remember and pass along her story, is intrinsic to the mounting suspense of the whole. A fine story that should also be popular.