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April 5, 2012

Children drawn to Titanic tale; educators use caution

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NEW YORK —

In fourth grade, Davis wasn't allowed to bring school library books to recess, "but I convinced my teacher to let me take this massive novel about the Titanic outside. It was such a big book. How else was I going to finish it?"

For 20 years, Ballard's JASON Project has offered middle school teachers materials and expertise for deeper exploration of the sciences in a variety of disciplines, including his own. More than 10 million students have participated, Davis among them.

"It's hard for a kid to grasp the scope of the Titanic," she said. "I remember seeing the images of the wreck taken by Ballard when I did the JASON Project. That was really haunting."

Children's writer Mary Pope Osborne began her popular fiction series, "Magic Tree House," along with nonfiction companions, around the time the JASON Project began.

"I spent the first 10 years asking kids all over the country what they wanted me to write about. They wanted me to write about the Titanic but I kept saying, 'No, it's too sad. It's too depressing.'"

She finally took it on in 1999 with "Tonight on the Titanic," her 17th book for 6- to 10-year-olds featuring her kid characters Jack and his sister, Annie.

"It has a mythic power. It's not right next to their lives," Osborne said. "I've had very few children ask me to write about 9/11, for instance. I think 100 years from now they would."

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