Volume 18 • Issue 20 | October 07 - 13, 2005


Anchoring reading habits to a sunken ship

By Jane Flanagan

I hear that part of Pier A in Battery Park might be used for a museum on the Titanic. Terrific, just what I need — unfettered access to the Titanic. My 7-year-old son Rusty, is, well, let’s just say he’s very interested in the ship.

It all started around this time last year. New to his school, Rusty was informed that he could take home two books each week from the library. Around about the third week I noticed the first Titanic book arrive home. Soon I would grow quite impressed with the school’s collection of books on the great disaster, for before long he was bringing home two Titanic books a week.

I recall many an exhausted night sitting in the rocker reading to him, trying mightily to stay alert to passages such as “nearly 1500 people perished” and be sure to skip them.

One of the main points of interest for him was “The Bridge.” The Bridge as I now know from parenting a boy, is where the ship’s captain and his gang commandeer the control panel and thus, the fate of the ship. Rusty was also interested in the details of how and why the great ship sank: what damage did the iceberg cause, which cabins filled with water first, why did the ship break into two parts, precisely how long did the ship take to sink?

Since I lack the talent for such details even on far lighter subjects, there were times I flagged. For instances, there were nights I found discussing the Titantic’s 50,000 horse power followed immediately by the question why there weren’t more lifeboats to save all the people beyond my stamina. I praised the Lord that I had a husband who had the wherewithal to handle such matters and eagerly surrendered the chair. I was never so grateful for the pressing responsibility to make his school lunch.

It was sometime around mid-November that, desperate for a break from the doomed ship, I stopped into the school library. I was feeling my usual girlish holiday pangs and went in search of something pilgrimish. After casting about I discovered that the “Magic Tree House Series” by Mary Pope Osborne, (a.k.a. the “Jack and Annie”) had something. This is the series where the young brother and sister team visit key historical places and events. I grabbed “Thanksgiving on Thursday” and headed for the front desk. I introduced myself to the kind-looking woman behind the counter. But as I mentioned the phrase, “Rusty’s mother,” I couldn’t help but notice her eyes grow large. After our mutual exchange of “nice to meet you,” the poor woman could no longer seem to restrain herself and blurted out, “I told him no more books on the Titanic!”

After that he brought home one book a week. But by winter, the year’s true pattern was established. By then the ill-fated ship was sailing home to me every week in his backpack, sometimes one, sometimes two books at a time, an ambitious course that continued clear through till June.

But I did have moments when I hoped things would be different. I think it was sometime around April or May, when I peered into the backpack one evening and spotted something surprising. Instead of the “Titanic” I found it’s rhyming cousin the “Britannic.” Turns out it was related. It was a “sister ship” of the Titanic, my son informed me. “Well at least we are branching out,” I thought and sat down that evening to read, my hopes raised. Things started off well, too. We read that the Britannic was a hospital ship during W.W. I. But it wasn’t long before I realized we hadn’t branched as far as I might have wished. The Britannic sunk, too.

Well the school year finally ended and my son no longer had access to it’s vast collection of Titanic books. We took off for Connecticut where we enjoyed the gorgeous sunshine and afternoons at the lake, and the Titanic and it’s grim fate were far from my mind. Eventually we made our way to the bookstore and I was delighted when Rusty asked the bookseller where the section on the Jack and Annie books were. He picked out four of them and together we began to flip through such titles as, “Afternoon on the Amazon” and “Midnight on the Moon.” But Rusty then said he wanted to get another one. I told him that I thought four was plenty for one day, but wanting to give him some role in the decision, I suggested that if there was another title he wanted to substitute for one of these, we could.

Off he went as I continued perusing the books. I was surprised by how quick he returned. “Here you go Mom, I want this one instead,” he said pulling the Amazon book out of my hands. I read the title. It was “Tonight on the Titanic.”


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