Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Lamp, the Ice, and the Boat Called Fish by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

 The Lamp, the Ice, and the Boat Called Fish: Based on a True Story by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Beth Krommes

Rating: 5 stars

If I had an extra few hours this morning, I would research why it is exactly that boys need adventure stories.  I remember in my semesters as an English major discussing the pull towards adventure and self-testing dramas while discussing Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces.  (Click here if you're curious.) But suffice it to say that boys like and need these types of stories.  Girls, too, sure, but boys even more.

Therefore, when my sister-in-law said that her son/my nephew is into explorers and exploration, I took it as my auntish duty to find some good books for him for the holidays.  He's 7.  This is one of those books that I found, purchased, and then read (because that's what I do) with Ben over the course of a few days.  It is fantastic.

When they arrived home,
they told their grandmother their story
of the boat that sank, the long walk over the ice,
the hungry summer.
It is, as the subtitle suggests, based on the true story of the Karluk and its passengers.  After the Karluk lost its job as a whaling boat, Canadian anthropologist Steffenson chartered it to the coast of Alaska, where he  planned to study the people and the plants of the region.  Before he even got to start on that mission, the boat became trapped in the ice 80 miles from land; then, it sank.  Two parties of eight men were sent out towards the island, but never returned.  Finally, a group from the Karluk did reach land, and found two different vessels that both attempted rescue, and the survivors of the Karluk were saved.  (Here is Wikipedia's version of the story.)

How did Martin make this into a children's book, you might wonder?  Steffenson arranged for an Inupiak family to go with him on his expedition.  Wisely, he knew that they would know the area better than he; they would know how to to hunt and fish, sew clothes and cook.  Within this family were two small girls: Pagnasuk, 8, and Makpii, 2.

You can imagine Ben's surprise at having a Kiefer-aged explorer!

A picture of the survivors, including the two young girls.
Martin does a commendable job of focusing on the exploration but adding in details of the girls, what they might have been doing, or how they probably helped, or what she thinks they would have seen.  It is, I would call it educated conjecture.  And it falls right alongside the true parts of the story very nicely.

This book definitely has all the parts of a really good adventure story: preparations and packing, danger and death, courage and risk, a total crisis and resolution in the form of sympathetic walrus hunters-turned-rescuers.

In addition to the fantastic, well-written story, the illustrations are amazing.  Beth Krommes won the Caldecott for The House in the Night, and she's illustrated a few other children's books.  Her latest book is Swirl by Swirl, written by Joyce Sidman.

It is a very good book, especially for the tricky transition age between picture books and chapter books.

P.S.  The other book I got for my nephew is So You Want to be a World Explorer.

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