Wednesday, December 22, 2010
When the Hero Is a Dog
This is the perfect time of year for elementary school students to read The Wreck of the Ethie (Peachtree, 1999). In this short novel, Hilary Hyland recounts how the steamer, the SS Ethie, was caught in the middle of a violent blizzard 90 years ago. Both girls and boys in 3rd-6th grades will enjoy reading the fictionalized account of how a Newfoundland dog saved almost 100 people from drowning to death on December 11, 1919.
The story is told from multiple points of view. Readers see the voyage, storm, crash, and rescue from the perspective of Skipper (the dog); Colleen (Skipper’s owner and daughter of a local Newfoundland fisherman); Patrick (young crew member on board the Ethie); Fergus (the superstitious, hard-working first mate); and Captain Flannery.
Hyland does a good job conveying the details of the powerful storm and how the difficult rescue operation hinged upon Skipper’s strength and bravery. Months later the “real” Newfoundland (whose name was Wisher) was awarded a leather collar and silver plate inscribed with “Hero.” Lost for years, the collar resurfaced in 2002 in an Alaskan antique store.
The black and white illustrations, glossary, author’s note, and easy reading level all contribute to making this short historical novel accessible to reluctant readers.