To the North Pole!

Keep OnKeep On! The Story of Matthew Henson, Co-Discoverer of the North Pole
by Debora Hopkinson; illus. by Stephen Alcorn
36 pages; ages 6-10
Peachtree, 2009

I realize this book was published a few years ago – but this seems like the perfect time of year to read about Arctic explorers. Most people, if you ask who discovered the North Pole, will say “Robert Peary”. They might not realize there was another explorer whose courage, skills, and fluency in Inuit language contributed to the success of Peary’s expedition.

Matthew Henson was born in 1866, just after the Civil War. It was a time, writes Hopkinson, when poor black boys had few chances of visiting another country – much less the top of the world. But at the age of 13, Matt set out to look for a job – and adventure – and was taken on as a cabin boy aboard ship. He learned history, math, navigation, how to tie knots and fix most anything.

Later, he had the opportunity to join Peary on Arctic expeditions. Matt had to learn about surviving in the harsh climate. He took the time to get to know the Inuit people and learn their language, how to dress and hunt and build a dog sled. As with any grand venture, there are failures and Peary’s team didn’t make it to the North Pole until their last expedition in 1909.

Hopkinson details the rough, tough life of Matt, his brush with death and determination to reach the top of the world.

“The fact that Matthew Henson’s name is not widely known even today reveals much about the times in which he loved and the prejudices he faced,” writes Hopkinson in her author’s note. That changed in 1945, when the Navy recognized the surviving members of the expedition.

This is a great book to put in the hands of an adventure-hungry kid any time of the year, but particularly suited for reading on a cold day when you can bundle up and explore your own frosty neighborhood. Also a good pick for Black History month.

Nonfiction Monday

It’s Nonfiction Monday!

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