". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Terrible Wave

If you are looking for a great summer "read," here's one to consider. Written by Marden Dahlstedt in 1972, it is a work of historical fiction which chronicles the devastating Johnstown, Pennsylvania flood of 1889. Some of my homeschooling friends may recognize it from the Sonlight catalog, where it is a Level 4 reader. In our house we used it as a readaloud, and all of us were spellbound from the very first chapter. The book is based on stories the author's grandparents told her about living through the flood, and the majority of it covers only a 72-hour period, beginning just moments before the wave hit on May 31, 1889.

In addition to being simply an exciting and suspenseful story, this is a book that opens the door for all kinds of interesting discussions. People are shown reacting in a variety of ways to the impossible circumstances in which they find themselves, and as in real life, some exhibit extraordinary bravery and selflessness while others use the occasion to pursue self-interest. Several times as our family read, we found ourselves thinking back to the Katrina disaster and remembering similar stories of heroism or the lack thereof. It made for some intriguing ethical questions concerning what is acceptable behavior in a survival situation. The book could also provide a starting off point for making sure your family has a plan in case of a catastrophe: "What if something terrible happened and we were separated from one another?"

Another significant theme of the book is that of class stratification. The main character, a young girl named Megan Maxwell, is the daughter of the richest man in town. Finding herself separated from her family in the aftermath of the flood, she encounters a fascinating assortment of people of all ages and walks of life that she would have never met if not for the flood. She grows and matures immeasurably, and her life is enriched and changed for all time as a result.

Finally, my Lutheran friends should have a special appreciation for this book. The Lutheran church figures prominently as a motif, and the Maxwell family's maid is a German Lutheran woman named Hulda who regularly breaks out into hymn: "A mighty forr-t-ress iss our Gott. A bull-vark neffer fay-yel-ling. . . ."

Maybe everyone has already read this and I'm late to the party. But if you haven't, it's definitely worth adding to your list.

1 comment:

Presbytera said...

Stop, stop, stop. Now I have to add another book to my summer reading list. So far that list is only getting bigger and I'm 2 weeks into my summer.