My four sixth-grade reading comprehension classes recently read Joan Hiatt Harlow’s historical novel, Star in the Storm, set in Newfoundland in 1912.
A slobbery, lovable “Newfie” dog named Sirius stole the show and the hearts of my students when he became the key player in the rescue of over 100 people from a sinking steamer off the coast of Newfoundland. The rescue is based on a real event that happened not long after the Titanic sank in nearby waters. The author did a grand job of keeping the reader on the edge of his seat, wondering if Sirius’s owners would find a way around a new law that would ban all non-sheepherding dogs from the island. Twelve-year-old Maggie did everything in her power to hide her dog, unaware that it was her father’s bold attempt to break away from greedy Howard Rand’s fishing monopoly that drove the campaign against Sirius. When Rand’s own daughter and grandson were among the rescued, he used his influence to assure Sirius a safe haven with the family and community who loved him.
After the students finished reading the book and discussing it and its colloquial vocabulary at length, each class was assigned the task of collaborating to write three or four chapters in play form. This involved brainstorming the main characters, events, setting, dialogue and action for an assigned section of the book. It was not as easy as it looked, especially considering that we have a shortage of girls in our school.
As the students began reading their parts in a readers theatre format, they created simple props and stage design. By sheer coincidence, we were scheduled to visit a very serious play about Anne Frank this same week, which ironically had a few actors playing more than one part with very simple stage design. It was exactly what we needed to see to tie up the loose ends on our production.
After a week of rehearsing separately, the four classes came together for the first and only performance, and it went off without a hitch! Thank you, Joan Hiatt Harlow, for writing such an endearing story, and thank you, students, for putting such heart and soul into a fun learning experience.