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New Twist on an Old Tragedy

TITLE: The Watch That Ends the Night: Voice from the Titanic

AUTHOR: Allan Wolf

LENGTH: 480 pages

Most people, including my seven-year old daughter, know about the sinking of the Titanic. The tragedy is as much a part of our collective history as the American Revolution or World War II. This tragedy, like others of its ilk, fascinate humankind because many of the people who could tell us exactly what happened were lost on that cold night in April 1912. Even those who survived to see old age gave varying accounts and differing interpretations of the events that led to over 1000 people’s deaths. The curiosity over how such a tragedy could happen and what it would have been like to be a Titanic passenger whispers through the years to awaken the detective in all of us.

Allan Wolf has given depth and personality to the lives of survivors and victims alike. Told in narrative prose, this novel encapsulates all strata of society berthed on the great ship. The doomed and the saved alike are given a chance to tell their individual stories within the five days at sea.  There are every imaginable passenger and crew member represented. The fear and longing of a Lebanese immigrant girl separated from her father resounds in her dreams of the frightening and exhilarating future that awaits her in America. The hope and fear of a father “smuggling” his own children to a better life haunts the lifeboats as he relinquishes his two boys into the hands of  a stranger. The pride and resignation of the shipbuilder as he watches his life’s work descend into the deep reverberates from the set of his shoulders as he stoically refuses to abandon his creation.  The iceberg that unemotionally awaits his date with the fated liner. Ultimately this retelling of Titanic’s  short life does something that no history book could accomplish – it highlights the humanity and hope rather than the selfishness and desperation of the very human, very real souls who walked her decks. And he does so with a respect and tenderness that makes one appreciate again what it means to be alive.

BRIDGE: This novel would be an amazing introduction to research. Much like the Holocaust of World War II, the inherent intrigue in the story would hook students immediately. And from the first pages of the novel, students would be clamoring to know more. Wolf has included an excellent bibliography from which students could begin their inquiries. Students could research the time period, specific passengers, specific seafaring vocations, the engineering and construction of past and present ships, the economics of  Atlantic crossings. The list could go on and on.

In addition, because the novel is written in verse, there are so many literary spring boards. Some of the poems have meter, some rhyme, some are free verse and some take shape. Paired with other poems and essays written about the disaster, this one book could encapsulate and entire literary unit in itself. In addition, the cross-curricular applications of this novel are immense. Teachers could work in math, music, history, and science in studying all the different layers of the work – the possibilities are staggering.

READERS: This book would be perfect for any number of readers. History buffs will devour its authentic people and places. Story lovers will enjoy the interwoven narratives. Math nuts will balk over the figures associated with Titanic, her dimensions and the tonnage of cargo. Science aficionados will want to map the coordinates of her journey and investigate the path of the icebergs and other ships in the vicinity. Even reluctant readers would be pulled in to the story and navigate the verse with ease.

OTHER TITLES: Readers who enjoyed this book would also enjoy Between Shade of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, or Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly.

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