The Watch that Ends the Night by Allan Wolf

The Titanic story has certainly been told and told again over the 100 years since her sinking, but in THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT, Allan Wolf has managed to capture the voices of the beings that were part of that story in a wholly new and captivating way.

This novel-in-verse chronicles the story of the unsinkable Titanic, from the boarding and preparations to set sail to the voyage, the sinking, and Carpathia‘s rescue and delivery of the survivors to New York. The undertaker’s voice is ever-present, too, capturing the scope of this tragedy intermittently throughout the story, always there from beginning to the end, lest readers forget how this one ends.

I’m always impressed when an author takes a story from history — a story to which I already know the ending — and manages to present it in a way that creates suspense and tension, nonetheless, and Wolf has done this beautifully. Who will survive, and how? The characters whose voices rise in poetry throughout the text feel fully realized, so the stakes are high when the inevitable collision happens and the ship begins to sink.

Those voices are unique, too, and that makes this a great book for book clubs, literature circles, and classes to discuss as part of a conversation on how form and meaning intersect. The young boys, for example, speak in short, back-and-forth bursts like a game of toss-the-ball, while the poems in the voice of the personified iceberg speak in cold, measured iambic pentameter until the very end. There’s simply so much to talk about here, and paired with some nonfiction readings on Titanic and a film clip or two, this could be make for some great connections that meet Common Core Standards in a way that’s truly engaging to kids.

This title would also make an amazing mentor text for a student research project. In THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT, Wolf has painstakingly researched two dozen individuals who were part of the Titanic disaster as well as the ship itself and the events surrounding her sinking, and he’s pared what must have been volumes of notes into this beating heart of a story that not only chronicles the historical incident but also paints a haunting picture of the humanity wrapped up in it. Thirty pages of back matter provide the real-life biographies of Wolf’s poetic voices, an extensive and comprehensive bibliography, and further details about Titanic. This format could be adapted to virtually any major historical event students may be studying. Teachers might challenge students to research the event and choose a selection of voices from the incident to speak in poetry, or each student in a class might take on one voice to create a whole group story of the event told from multiple perspectives.

THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT is an ambitious and beautifully crafted book. Share it with your advanced middle school and high school readers, history buffs, and writers; they’ll all find something amazing to take away from this new version of an old story.

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