Shipbuilding Program Gives Kids Insights on Titanic Lore
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)
Fairfield, CT – For a short time Friday afternoon, Fairfield Woods Branch Library was transformed into a shipyard, with kids on the job assembling boats while learning about one of the most noted ships in history.
As part of its One Book One Town program, the Library has scheduled activities all throughout March themed around the Titanic, which sank 100 years ago this April after colliding with an iceberg. “Shipbuilding 101”, led by Children’s Librarian Cheryl DelVecchio, was the first of several workshops geared to kids, and built around the book “TitaniCat”, written by Marty Crisp and illustrated by Robert Papp. For adult readers, the Library is spotlighting Allan Wolf’s “The Watch That Ends the Night.”
“TitaniCat” is loosely based on the true story of a cat called 4-0-1 that lived aboard the Titanic. The cat would have gone down with the ill-fated ship, but was removed to shore in Southhampton by a cabin boy as the cat had had kittens. The boy was supposed to have gone back aboard to complete the trans-Atlantic journey but missed the departure and was ultimately saved from almost certain death.
DelVecchio read “TitaniCat” to participating kindergarten and first grade children, then guided them on building mini replicas of the Titanic out of construction paper, milk cartons and glue. The models included smokestacks and could be adorned with accessories like waves and sea creature stickers. Children and their guardians collaborated on the work, trimming, taping and decorating the small ships.
“We thought a shipbuilding exercise would be fun,” said DelVecchio. “This is the first of four children’s programs themed around the Titanic that we will offer this month.”
While entertaining, ”TitaniCat” was also informative. Notably, every ship that sailed in those days carried a cat on board to control mice and rats. Sailors also believed a ship’s cat brought good luck to a journey.
As to the cat’s curious name 4-0-1, it related to the Titanic’s initial designation. In those days, it was a long-standing superstition not to call a ship by name while it was being built. The Titanic was assigned the number 4-0-1, which in turn became the cat’s name.
Five-year-old Luca DeMassa thought it was remarkable that the cabin boy, who may not have been more than 14, was traveling alone. Her mother Grace explained, “In those days, children went to work at a young age.”
Jeannie Ceres, also five, had a ball building her Titanic model, collaborating with her grandmother Aamparo Orban. She particularly liked the sea creature stickers. “I like the pink ones best, that’s my favorite color,” she said.