Recommended For Kids
ICE STORY: Shackleton's Lost Expedition, by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. (Clarion Books, $18; grades 6-12.) Recent years have seen a cultural fixation on the derring-do of mountaineers, balloonists, and others exploring "new" frontiers. The resulting movies, books, and magazine articles have delivered the promised thrills and chills, but there's a cheap feel to them, particularly when the adventurers are millionaires who have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to go where dozens of men and women have gone before.
As the century draws to a close, Kimmel's book serves as a handy reminder of what the term "explorer" meant in the early 1900s. Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1914 expedition to cross Antarctica was ultimately a failure—the crew of 28 men was stranded for more than two years—but it is a remarkable story of courage and endurance.
In the book's opening pages, Kimmel offers a quick tour of Shackleton's childhood in Ireland and England, as well as a telling anecdote about the future explorer: His parents one day found him in the backyard trying to dig a tunnel to Australia.
After his training in the British mercantile marine, Shackleton made his first voyage to Antarctica in 1901 on an expedition led by famed explorer Robert Falcon Scott. Scott's team failed to reach the South Pole, but Shackleton returned in 1907 at the head of his own expedition. His men came within 97 miles of the Pole and became the first to climb Mt. Erebus, a feat that earned Shackleton a British knighthood.
When Norwegian Roald Amundsen reached the Pole in 1911, Shackleton shifted his focus to another first: a coast-to-coast crossing of Antarctica. In 1914, he launched the Imperial TransAntarctic Expedition, with plans to sail a wooden, three-mast ship—aptly named Endurance— to the continent's northern coast, then trek 1,800 miles through the Pole to the southern coast. Disaster struck, however, as ice stalled and then crushed the ship, forcing the crew to abandon Endurance and camp on ice floes in the Weddell Sea for five months. Finally, the ice broke, and the men launched the ship's three lifeboats. After a journey marked by numbing cold, tidal waves, and killer whales, they landed on Elephant Island, off the northernmost tip of the continent.
The crew found relative safety on the island but was still stranded. Kimmel's account of the expedition's harrowing circumstances is dramatic and heartbreaking. Drawing heavily on the men's diaries, she describes how they hunted seal and penguin to stay alive and slept in damp clothes and sleeping bags in temperatures well below freezing. At one campsite, Kimmel writes, "ice fragments the size of dinner plates blew through the air, making even a brief walk down the beach a dangerous expedition."
The book features a generous number of black-and-white photographs taken by the expedition's photographer, Frank Hurley. Hurley, who lugged the fragile, glass negatives for his photos throughout the journey, captured dramatic images of the wreck of the Endurance as well as painful portraits of the haggard crew.
In the end, all the men were rescued, thanks to the heroics of Shackleton, who set off with five men in a 22-foot lifeboat for South Georgia Island, 800 miles away. After surviving the open-sea journey, these men endured a treacherous trek across the island to reach help at a whaling station.
Though Shackleton never made it to the Pole, Kimmel portrays him as a true adventurer who led his men with incredible calm in the face of unimaginable danger. In the book's epilogue, she quotes Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Everest: "For scientific discovery, give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel, give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton."
Adults and older teens will probably enjoy The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition , by Caroline Alexander, who is the curator for a Shackelton exhibition that recently opened at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
TRUE HEART, by Marissa Moss, with illustrations by C.F. Payne. (Silver Whistle, $16; grades K-3.) Children's literature is plump with picture books and novels about young women of the past who, with lots of desire and more than a little luck, rise above common, everyday life to accomplish great things. Set in the late 19th century, this story about a young railroad worker who wins a coveted job as a train engineer is the latest in the genre.
Left to support her eight brothers and sisters when her parents die of typhus, Bee gives up a tedious job washing clothes for more lucrative work loading freight cars in the Cheyenne, Wyoming, rail yards. But what she really wants is to drive the locomotive. So whenever she can, she rides with the engineers in the cab, watching and learning. One seasoned engineer, Ole Pete Morgan, even lets her drive an occasional stretch of track. Of course, the others on her work crew tease her mercilessly about her foolish dreams.
Moss, who read a number of turn-of-the-century diaries of young women to give her character authenticity, tells the story through Bee's eyes. The first-person narrative starts out slow but picks up steam when a gang of bandits attempts to rob a cross-country train known as True Heart just outside of Cheyenne. The robbery fails, but Ole Pete, who happens to be driving True Heart that day, takes a bullet in the arm. With no one else available to step in for him and a fancy-pants passenger protesting loudly about the delay, Bee gets her big break.
It's an engaging, if far-fetched, story that kids of both sexes will enjoy. After all, what boy or girl hasn't dreamed of driving a train or some other enormous vehicle? But the real excitement here is not in the prose; it's in the warm and richly detailed illustrations. Payne puts the reader in each scene, whether it's the busy loading dock in the Cheyenne rail yard or the sooty cab of a speeding train. On one page, we're looking down the barrel of a gun during a hold up; on another, we're peering over someone's shoulder, listening in on a conversation. Although this is the illustrator's first children's book, many adult readers will recognize his distinctive style from his work for Time and the Atlantic Monthly . (He also has created five stamps for the U.S. Postal Service.) Perhaps he has found a new niche for his talents.
Together, Payne and Moss have created an upbeat yarn about a memorable character, a confident young woman who refuses to be discouraged or outdone by any mere man.
SUNDAY WEEK, by Dinah Johnson, with illustrations by Tyrone Geter. (Henry Holt, $15.95; grades K-2.) From the Monday blues to Thursday's library visit to Saturday's chores, this charming picture book takes the reader through each day of the week as a child waits for Sunday, her favorite day of all. The text touches on the importance of church and faith in the life of the child and her cohesive African American community, but it in no way proselytizes. Geter's stunning charcoal and pastel illustrations, done on colored paper, perfectly complement Johnson's rhythmic verse.
THE SNAKE SCIENTIST, by Sy Montgomery, with photographs by Nic Bishop. (Houghton Mifflin, $16; grades 3-6.) Zoologist Bob Mason-a.k.a., the Snake Scientist-travels every spring to Northern Manitoba in Canada to study the thousands of red-sided garter snakes that slither from their underground hibernation in limestone pits and writhe in piles two feet high. Mason's enthusiasm for these reptiles is catching as he describes how they mate and migrate to a marsh. Intriguing photographs of these curious critters add to the fun.
THE SEA MONSTER'S SECRET, by Malka Drucker, with illustrations by Christopher Aja. (Harcourt Brace, $16; grades 1-3.) Suffering the insults of his nagging and spiteful mother-in-law, a young American Indian from the Tlingit tribe sets off to find a legendary sea monster. After bravely killing the ferocious beast, he dons the monster's skin and, to his surprise and delight, begins a series of underwater adventures that make him a hero and drive away his wife's mother. The author has skillfully adapted this tale from Alaskan totem pole art. The acrylic and gouache artwork bursts from the page in vibrant colors and bold images.
GOLD FEVER, by Verla Kay, with illustrations by S.D. Schindler. (Putnam, $15.99; grades K-2.) The rhyming text and humorous colored-pencil illustrations make this story about farmer Jasper, who gets gold fever and heads West with the forty-niners, a fun primer on the California gold rush. Like many other miners of the time, Jasper finds bobcats, bears, and rattlesnakes, but no gold. Finally, he quits his claim and heads back to family and farm, a wiser man.
WHEN JFK WAS MY FATHER, by Amy Gordon. (Houghton Mifflin, $15; grades 6-8.) When her banker father and would-be socialite mother separate in 1963, 13-year-old Georgia decides that President John F. Kennedy ought to be her father. Dispatched to boarding school, she writes (but never mails) funny and revealing letters to "Jack" about her ups and downs. This is a bizarre but refreshingly upbeat novel.
A LITTLE BIT OF WINTER, by Paul Stewart, with illustrations by Chris Riddell. (HarperCollins, $12.95; grades K-2.) Two friends, Rabbit and Hedgehog, experience winter differently: Rabbit forages, while Hedgehog hibernates. Hedgehog longs to know what winter "feels" like, so Rabbit promises to preserve a bit of winter for when his pal wakes in the spring. But how? It's an endearing story of friendship, with illustrations to match.
JANEY'S GIRL, by Gayle Friesen. (Kids Can Press, $14.95; young adult.) Claire, 14, has little sense of her family: She has never met her father, and her mom, Janey, refuses to speak about her own childhood. But when Claire's grandfather dies, mother and daughter visit Janey's hometown, and the past reveals itself in a way much more complicated than Claire dreamed of. This is a moving story of estranged family members and misplaced pride.
--Barbara Hiron and Blake Rodman
Vol. 10, Issue 7, Pages 51-52