Book of the Month Archive

That Fatal Night: The Titanic Diary of Dorothy Wilton

By Sarah Ellis
Published by Scholastic
ISBN #978-0-545-98073-9


May 1, 1912

Father and Mother met with the principal this morning. I am not allowed to go to school for the rest of the year due to my shocking behaviour yesterday in the schoolyard. I am to do my lessons at home. This afternoon Miss Caughey brought my books to me. She also brought this notebook. She said, "When you are ready, write an account of what happened to you this spring. I think it will help."

All right. I am ready.

My name is Dorothy Pauline Wilton. I am twelve years old. I live in Halifax. I have one brother, Charles, who is grown up and lives in New York City. I was in England visiting Grandfather and Grandmother at their house, Mill House, and I was coming home on a big new ship called the Titanic with Miss Pugh, who works in Father's bank but was travelling to England to see her very old father so was taking care of me, and the Titanic hit an iceberg and it sank.

Many people drowned. I survived. Miss Pugh did not. Now I'm home.

That is what happened.



Part of the popular historic fiction series “Dear Canada”, That Fatal Night retraces Dorothy’s experience as a passenger on the Titanic through her diary entries. The diary initially tells of Dorothy’s current life in Halifax combined with her memories of visiting her grandparents in England. For Dorothy, what happened between England and Halifax is difficult to recount. An encouraging and sympathetic teacher realizes that Dorothy is struggling emotionally and coaxes her to write about small, pleasant memories of the voyage; describing the hustle and bustle at the docks, the grand decorations of the ship’s interior, and how her cabin was different from her room at home. Gradually, Dorothy is able to tackle writing about the source of her trauma – that fatal night.


Ellis is an excellent storyteller and she crafts a vivid portrayal of this historic event through the eyes of a quick-witted and likeable young woman. Dorothy’s unique perspective reveals her struggle with survivor's guilt and keeps readers intrigued by her experience.  That Fatal Night, in the tradition of the Dear Canada books, includes photographs of the Titanic and its actual passengers, many whom Dorothy interacts with in the book.


That Fatal Night is an excellent choice for a Social Studies or Humanities novel study; students are often spellbound by lessons about the Titanic and won’t be disappointed by Ellis’ book. Students would enjoy researching the characters from That Fatal Night who are based on real people and uncovering whether they survived or not, and if they did survive, what they did with their lives. This would emphasize the reality of the Titanic and further bring this historic event to life in the classroom.

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