Saturday, May 1, 2010

Non-Fiction: Inspiring

I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez--When I was in school and learned about the discovery of the North Pole and the conflicting stories of Admiral Peary and Doctor Cook, I never once heard the name of Matthew Henson. I first heard of him two or three years ago as I pulled biographies of African-Americans for Black History Month. He was given a chapter in a book about several African-Americans who had made great achievements. Sooooo, I was overjoyed to see I, Matthew Henson on the SCBAN list.

If you are not familiar with him, Matthew Henson was a black man born in 1866. After his parents died, he ran away to sea at the age of 13 and became a cabin boy. He sailed to five continents, learned numerous languages, and many trades. When his captain died, he had trouble finding work with white crews who would treat him as an equal. He quit the sea to become a stock boy (man?) in a men's store. This is where he met Robert Peary and changed the course of his life. For the next twenty years, Henson sailed with Peary, first as Peary's personal valet, then as trusted fellow explorer. They took seven trips to the Arctic before finally reaching the North Pole.

I, Matthew Henson stops on that triumphant note. The text leading up to that moment is driving and determined, and the illustrations, while in seemingly fuzzy pastels, reflect that determination with strong lines and colors. I was positively inspired by the whole package, and will be pushing it most heartily into the hands of readers, eager and otherwise.

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