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The Stars in April Review by Cecilia Young

Peggy Wirgau

Most of us know the main story of the Titanic as seen through the eyes of the silver screen with fictional characters such as Jack and Rose. We also know the story through basic American history, but neither of those can compare to the account given by Ruth Becker as told in The Stars in April by Peggy Wirgau. In this splendid work of historical fiction, Peggy Wirgau weaves together actual events and people with some colorful fictional characters to help us meet the main character, Ruth Becker, right where she is.

Ruth Becker is a twelve-year-old girl in the early 1900s dealing with all of the everyday preadolescent things that girls deal with and more. She must leave all she loves behind in her parent’s effort to seek medical care for her ailing brother. Ruth (begrudgingly) must join her mother, brother, and sister on a trip across the world. Along the way, she meets people who show her that God puts people in places in her life to help her get where she needs to go, both physically and emotionally. Finally, of course, the story climaxes aboard the Titanic, where she relishes in all the splendor and forgets her woes for just a bit until the unthinkable happens.

Ruth Becker is the main character and narrator of the story, but we meet several other friendly faces along the way. In addition to Ruth’s stern mother, carefree sister, and sickly brother, we meet traveling circus performers, English ladies, and a family of Irish immigrants. Each colorful character Ruth meets, helps get her mind off her troubles and changes her perspective on life.

Peggy Wirgau draws us into this story with her attention to historical detail. She paints pictures with her descriptions of sights, smells, sounds, and feelings. The reader can almost smell and feel the heat on the train and almost see and taste the grand six-course meals served in the second-class dining room aboard the Titanic. When Ruth gets into some mischief with a friend, the reader is nervous right with her as she waits for a scolding from the first officer on the ship and waits expectantly for him to tell her mother.

My family used this book as a read-aloud, and my children (age 12 and 6) are so invested in Ruth’s story, they have decided to do more research on her. The author makes this a bit easier by including real-life stories and pictures at the end of the book. The fact that she researched and fit as many real characters as possible makes this story even more memorable and allows the reader (or listeners) to become emotionally invested.

The Stars in April is an easy read for adults and older children alike, but the ease of reading makes it quite an enjoyable story to read aloud with children. Peggy Wirgau beautifully knitted some fun, fictional characters into the real story of a young girl torn between a love for her home and an obligation to her family. The added sky journal entries and letters help the reader feel they are on the receiving end of those letters, which draws the reader in.

At the end of the book, not only are there real accounts and pictures of the Titanic and Ruth Becker and family but there is also a wonderful set of discussion questions. These questions are great for conversation starters with children or to use in a group setting. Some of these questions can even be great starting points for themed reports for older children.

It is important to note the insinuation of death toward the end of the book as the Titanic sinks. While these descriptions are not incredibly detailed, they did make both me and my children tear up, so be aware of this sensitive subject before reading it to your children or letting them read the book.

This book is excellent as a stand-alone read but would be a wonderful addition to a unit study. Along with a renewed interest in studying the Titanic and other historical events, my children have also become interested in astronomy and star gazing thanks to Ruth’s star journals and the constellation descriptions at the end of the book. My family has spent some time studying the Titanic in previous years, and I wish this book had been available then! We all loved this book, and it may very well be the start of another Titanic study for us.

-Product review by Cecilia Young, The Old Schoolhouse®, November 2021