Thursday, September 18, 2014

Shackleton's Journey by William Grill

Shackleton's Journey by William Grill

Rating: 5 stars

The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Ernest Shackleton. 1914. The Endurance. The greatest survival story ever. Reading more about it is on my to-do list; I'm aiming to get to that when the kids are in late middle school, so that I can teach them lessons about this extraordinary man while also drawing on his courage and perseverance as I face my kids' teenage years.

In all seriousness, I'm just not sure I can do this book justice.  I found it on a list of Caldecott hopefuls, and I've been blown away ever since.

Funding and recruitment
William Grill has created a masterpiece here. In thirty-two short chapters--most just a double spread long--he shows rather than tells of the expedition that made Shackleton one of the best explorers ever. He begins by telling us a little about Shackleton and his background, then discusses the funding and recruitment for such a voyage.  By highlighting fascinating tidbits ("Shackleton quizzed candidates on their practical skills, but also about more unusual things, like if they could sing well.") and providing detailed drawings--such as the line of people who stood to apply to go with Shackleton--Grill hooks kids in to his unusual style.

Grill goes on, page after huge page, to illustrate the adventure.  He illustrates the equipment and supplies. He captures the excitement in the moment of "bon voyage." The expedition map shows Shackleton's route and the ice he's up against. I'm as impressed as the kids with the pack ice they ram through, complete with videographer hanging from the stern to film it. And then they're stuck! The entire crew stays where they are for years, eating and living and entertaining themselves.
Meanwhile on Elephant Island

"Extraordinary detail" doesn't begin to describe how great Grill's drawings are. Each little sketch is a story of itself, worthy of many minutes' study. And Grill uses colored pencils as his medium--just colored pencils. The book makes me think of those huge DK books that show the inside of a castle. But it is also a story, with one of the biggest, most unbelievable, completely TRUE plots ever!

I am confident this book will capture the imagination of at least one person in your house. The recommended age for this book is 7 to 11, and I agree with that, although having a picture book in your hand in these later years is definitely odd for some kids.

Then again, at 38, I have no problem having a picture book in my lap...especially one as extraordinary as Shackleton's Journey.

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