Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Watch That Ends the Night

The 1912 sinking of the Titanic is one of those rare historical events that fascinates both adults and young people. That disaster, memorialized in nonfiction books, movies, and even a Broadway musical, is now recounted in THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT : VOICES FROM THE TITANIC, a novel in verse by Allan Wolf. The twenty-five voices that describe the the ship's journey from its launch to the rescue of its survivors include the ship's captain, several passengers from different classes, the ship rat, and even the iceburg that causes the disaster. ("I am the ice. I've seen the sun arise / for centuries, a hundred thousand dawns. / The sun rose up before humans came. / The sun will rise long after they are gone.") One way to judge the success of any multi-voice narrative is to dip into the volume on random pages and see if one can identify each speaker's unique voice without checking the top of the page. Unfortunately, with a few notable exceptions, many of these wordy poems tend to blur together, regardless of speaker. Nevertheless, this reimagining of the Titanic tragedy -- familiar in content, yet stunningly original in execution and style -- is a major accomplishment and one which will no doubt be long popular with young readers, always hungry for another, different volume about this historical event.

PRINTZ-WORTHY? A book about the Titanic winning the Printz on the one-hundredth anniversary of the tragedy would be notable. Much will depend on how the committee approches this work. On a line-by-line basis, the poems are generally strong, despite some stylistic sameness. But this is also a work where the whole is bigger than the individual components, making well worth some award recognition.

What do YOU think?

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