Distant Waves

There are some books I could build an entire multi-disciplinary unit around. “Distant Waves,” by Suzanne Weyn, is one of them.

Distant Waves book cover

The book is subtitled “A Novel of the Titanic,” but most of the action takes place before that event, leaving the reader anticipating how the destiny of the characters will enfold with what is already known about history.  And there is a lot of history in this book.  There are a lot of “side trips” that a class could take in this book.

Take a look at the “Book Tralier” by Scholastic (more on Book Trailers later).

Angles for Research

The “Book Trailer” describes the sinking of the Titanic as “One of the most documented tragedies of all time,” which makes it idea for teaching about sources.

Historical Fiction

Numerous pictures of the Titanic ship and rescue exist on the Library of Congress website.  They could be a starting point for writing from the point of view of a survivor:

Titanic survivors

Example:  You are a survivor of the Titanic, on board this lifeboat on the way to the Carpathia, the boat which is rescuing you.  What have you been through for the last 12 hours?  How did you get aboard this lifeboat?  What are you thinking right now?

Photo source:  Library of Congress


Science and spiritualism play against (and with) each other in this book in interesting ways.  The book talks about the rivalry between contemporaries Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison.  Here are their PBS web pages:

Nikola Tesla – http://www.pbs.org/tesla/index.html

Thomas Edison – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/edison/

It would be interesting to ask students to pretend that they worked for each of these scientists and ask them to talk about how they feel about the “rival camp.”  In the book, Tesla’s assistant gives us Tesla’s opinion of Edision. This could be background research for a class debate of which scientist contributed more to society.

Hoaxes, Conspiracy Theories, and Controversial Science

The Philadelphia Experiment

Both of these topics have sources that support and debunk the topic.  It would be a great time to talk about source evaluation, bias, and point-of-view.  There are numerous websites about The Philadelpha Experiment, but here are four I’ve picked out which I think would be interesting to have students compare and evaluate.


  1. Which of these sites seems most credible, and why?  Rank the sites on a scale of 1-10, 10 being highly credible, and 1 being not credible at all.
  2. After reading all four sites, what do you think were the basic issues behind The Philadelphia Experiment?  What claims do we have solid evidence for?  What claims do not seem to be backed up by evidence?


Turn of the Century Spiritualist Movement
Time Travel

Intentional Communities

The family in the book moves to a community of mediums known as “Spirit Vale,” which the author modeled after the true-to-life “Lily Dale, NY” spiritualist community.   The community survives today, and there is enough information available to talk both about the concept of “intentional communities” – communities of like-minded people who choose to live together, and about point of view:

Gilbert, Bill.  “In Good Spirits.”  Smithsonian Magazine Online.   Smithsonian Institution.  June 1, 2001.  Accessed: January 4, 2010. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/interest_jun01.html

Lily Dale Assembly:  http://www.lilydaleassembly.com/

Compare these two sources of information about the Lily Dale community for point of view.


About Paula Montrie

I am a Middle School Librarian at Friends School of Baltimore. I have been a librarian for 11 years, serving 6 years with the Howard County Public School System before arriving at my current school. I teach two classes: SpeechCraft (a combination of information literacy, public speaking and theater), and Media Literacy at the middle school level. I also collaboratively co-teach with a number of teachers at the school, including Music, Geography, and U.S. History. I love it! My professional interests are: information literacy, multiple intelligences and learning styles, teaching through movement, curriculum-writing, technology integration, and bridging the gap between digital natives and digital immigrants. My personal interests are: dancing, singing, knitting, sewing, art, living history, writing and of course - reading!
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2 Responses to Distant Waves

  1. TheresaGray says:

    I love the connection you make to the historical aspect of the novel. I have not read it but am certainly adding it to my wishlist!! I also love the connection you make to research and critical review of sources. You are right when you say there is plenty for a multi-disciplinary lesson here!

  2. I can’t wait to read this one. I wish I was teaching students old enought to use these ideas with. It sounds like an excellent unit that ties in a multitude of learning styles and subjects.

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