Avi’s Newbury honor book, “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, ” was brought to life recently in finale projects by fifth and sixth grade students in Heather Archer’s classroom at Wasuma Elementary School
The projects, which deepened the students understanding of the themes in the book, were chosen from a list gleaned and created by Archer. It included a movie poster design, learning how to tie knots, writing an epilogue to the novel, creating a comic strip, and building a model of the ship, The Brig, which is the two-masted ship where the majority of events take place.
Students also made class presentations.
The novel is based on the adventures of a 13-year-old girl, Charlotte Doyle, who finds herself sailing from Liverpool, England, where she has been attending the Barrington Better School for Girls, to America. The year is 1832. Charlotte’s role changes from passenger to crew member and Archer’s students grappled with ideas of race, gender and social standing that were prevalent at the time.
Students found murder, mayhem, mutiny and a surprise ending in the novel.
“I did enjoy the book because Charlotte shows that people can change if they want,” said sixth grader Taylor Oetinger.
“I liked the book because it had action, horror and mystery,” fifth grader Rylie McLaughlin said.
“I enjoyed reading the book because it told the tale of a girl who transformed from a white-gloved lady into a filthy, runaway deckhand,” said fifth grader Avery Bunnell.
In addition to the main character, Charlotte, being a student favorite, other characters were favored by some students.
“My favorite character was Charlotte because she learned to take care of herself,” said sixth grader Carly Conley.
“Probably Cranick (was my favorite) because he is basically a mystery. No one knows much about him and all he wanted was justice, but all he got was a free ticket to his death,” said fifth grader Elsa Smock.
“My favorite character in the book is probably Zachariah because he was a true friend,” said Irene Rosasco, a sixth grader. Fifth graders Eli Long and Aidan Persson both agreed that Zachariah was their favorite character because he was brave, nice, funny and bold.
A number of students named the captain of the ship, Jaggery, as their favorite character.
“My favorite character in the book is Jaggery because he is cocky and insane,” said David Doorley, a fifth grader.
“(My favorite is) Jaggery because he was an awesome, insane villain and the story would not be the same without him,” said Dylan Heard, a fifth grader.
“My favorite character in the book was Fisk. I liked Fisk because he was buff and he was not a traitor. I also like him because he’s a take charge guy,” said sixth grader Garrett McMechan.
McMechan and Madison Rounsivill, a fifth grader, both chose to make a comic strip as part of their final project. Rounsivill created hers on the computer.
“I couldn’t see the point of just writing. People don’t pay attention to paper. People pay a lot of attention to a screen,” she said.
To explore some of the knots that crew members of the ship might have had to master, carrick bend, slip, clove hitch, and bowline knots were tied with rope and attached to a poster board by fifth grader Max Rice.
“I chose the knot board because I am a Cub Scout and I knew some of them,” Rice said.
Five students, using paper, popsicle sticks, twine, rice cereal, wood, hot glue, an orange juice carton and/or watercolors created models of the ship. Oetinger’s had cloth sails, sixth grader Quillen Pierce used cardboard and duct tape and painted his sails with watercolors. McMechan used an orange juice carton to form the hull of his ship and Jack Elrod, a sixth grader, created a crow’s nest from popsicle sticks and rigging and ladders from twine. Cole Muraszewski consumed his ship as it was made of chocolate flavored rice crispy treats.
Among students choosing to write an epilogue to the story were sixth graders Willow Dobson and Courtney Ressler.
“I chose the epilogue because I love to write stories and poems,” said Dobson.
“A lot of books have cliff hangers and it makes me wonder what’s going to be,” said Ressler who wrote about how Charlotte’s life turned out 17 years after the original novel ended.
One of the projects chosen only once since Archer began having students create projects based on the novel is entitled, The Letter of the Law. In this project students must research the admiralty codes - the system of law concerning ships and the sea during the 1830s. She explains that students are initially excited about doing this project where she asks them to “pay particular attention to information concerning the relationship of the ship’s captain to his crew.” Once they start reading the actual codes, they seem to lose interest, she said.
Archer has taught at Wasuma for 17 years, always at the 5-8th grade levels.
“Kids are starting to experiment with their personalities and that’s a lot of fun.” Archer said. “They’re also starting to form some opinions about the “real” world out there ... we have some great conversations. That’s one thing I enjoy about the “Doyle” novel, it challenges their perceptions about what they think they know about people. Life in the 1800s was very different for children than it is now - I think it is important for the students to see how many things have changed and yet how many things are similar ... we still struggle with racism, sexism, and preconceived ideas of one another.”
Archer said the novel has so many surprises that the children often end the novel with very different feelings about the characters than when they started. The purpose behind the projects is to allow everyone to demonstrate their talents in both the traditional “academic” way and also in a more creative, less pencil to paper, sense.
“These projects have evolved over the years often with students offering up suggestions, too,” Archer said. “Some of the writing options give the kids a chance to retell an important event from the perspective of another character. That can be a real challenge. Rewriting the final chapter gives those students who were unhappy with the ending a chance to “make it right.” The epilogues are almost always the most entertaining because the kids really get creative. I think they give the characters the lives the students would’ve wanted for themselves if they’d had the freedom Charlotte gained,” Archer said.