I love to read historical books, both fiction and non fiction. This one is a delightful work of non-fiction designed for the elementary reader, but greatly appreciated by this adult. It is also a Boston-Globe-Horn Book Honor winner. This book first came out in 2011 as a hardback, but has recently been released as a paperback. Ross has given the reader a glimpse into the sort of lives that early explorers lived as they made discoveries that would change the world.
Ross introduces some explorers and explorations that I did not know about, such as Pytheas the Greek and the Treasure Fleet of Emporer Zheng He of China. Every chapter, even those about well-known explorers, has something in it that is not well-known. These details make the book all the more fascinating.
For example, until I read this book, I did not know that the Chinese built their fleet inland and floated them out to the sea in man-made canals. I had never heard of Pytheas the Greek and his exploration of the North Atlantic. I also learned that the father and son team of Auguste and Jacques Piccard both soared into the stratosphere in a hydrogen balloon and descended into the deepest part of the Mariana Trench in a bathyscaphe (a feat the has never, yet, been repeated).
The illustrator, Steven Biesty, did an amazing job with the illustrations. Although all illustrations are drawings, they are so detailed that they come alive on the page. I was fascinated about how the explorers could tell by using the sun whether they were traveling north or south and how Viking knar boats were built so that they could twist in a storm. Biesty’s illustrations allowed me to visualize what they had seen.
The chapters are arranged in chronological order, which makes it easy for readers to find information about a particular time period. Ross also includes an excellent index, a glossary for unfamiliar terms, a list of sources and acknowledgement of direct use of information. These items make the book a good source for teaching research to young students.
Each chapter has at least one foldout page. This makes the book more interesting, but it could be a deal-breaker for those libraries with a small budget. (I would most certainly enforce the foldouts with hinge tape before allowing it to circulate.) However, the low cost of the paperback version at $9.99 is almost unbelievable for today’s market and would allow for replacement.
If at all possible, this book should be added to your collection. I do not often highly recommend books, especially paperbacks; but I highly recommend this book for elementary and middle school readers.