Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Let's Get Lost

I have been leading the creative writing after-school club at my son's elementary school. A talented group of three boys and four girls, 4th through 6th grades. I started them off writing shipwreck diaries, and they are having a great time with the diary format and making maps of their islands and other kinds of undiscovered countries. I told them a little about Alexander Selkirk, the supposed inspiration for Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. There doesn't seem to be a good kids' book about Selkirk, and if the information available online is only half true, it's an amazing oversight. I also learned something I think I'd known and forgotten, that "Swiss Family Robinson" isn't about a Swiss family named Robinson at all, but rather "robinson" was a noun describing a genre of adventure novel that became extremely popular the wake of the success of Robinson Crusoe.

At the same time, my third grader has gotten deeply into the Discovery TV series Treasure Quest, about the commercial marine archaeology/salvage company Odyssey Marine Exploration, a commercial shipwreck salvage company. We are all glued to the set watching the ROV Zeus explore various wrecked passenger ships, U-boats, and steamboats. Will they find gold? Low-alpha lead bars worth more than gold? Skeletons?

It prompted my son to ask for a book he's had for a while and never really gotten into, Duncan Cameron's Shipwreck Detective. The book had been a hit with a friend's son who was laid up with a long recuperation, but Budza had never really gotten into it. Now is the perfect time. It's one of those marvels of paper engineering, with lots of bits and pieces to take out and examine, a la The Jolly Postman or Griffin & Sabine, and now used to great success in the Ologies series from Candlewick. This one comes with a removable compass and a blank diving log. When we're done with Shipwreck Detective, I will try him on some of the classic survival in the wildnerness stories. The one I remember reading was Jean Craighead George's My Side of the Mountain, but more recently there had been Gary Paulsen's gripping Hatchet (not for the faint of heart) and Kensuke's Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo. Substitute for "shipwreck" any misadeventure that can leave the hero stranded in a strange place and you have the makings of a good robinson. Or should we start a campaign to call them selkirks?

Will I be able to coax Budza to scuba lessons at our local dive shop? He will need to learn to swim, first. I the meantime, we can enjoy the deep vicariously. Or build our own ROV.

If exploring by ROV floats your own boat, don't miss the following blogs:
Karen Romano Young's fabulous ocean science blog, Bubble and Squeak
The "live dive" blog over at National Geographic's Shipwreck Central
The maritime archaeology blog at from the Underwater Blogger at the Museum of Underwater Archaeology

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