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Looking for Marco Polo Hardcover – September 22, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 5–7—This story within a story brings to life the adventures of the famed 13th-century Venetian explorer. It begins in the modern day with the disappearance of 11-year-old Mark's father, who is tracing Polo's route through the Gobi desert. Mark and his mother travel to Venice to help with the search. While there, Mark has a terrible asthma attack and meets his dad's army friend Dr. Hornaday, who decides to entertain his patient with imaginative stories about Marco Polo. His tales are full of color and excitement; the details, although they are not based on known historical events, are grounded in the author's research on Polo's times and the places he claimed to have seen. The narrative becomes a little confusing: Hornaday's dog can talk to Mark and describes what Polo's homecoming to Venice was like, as passed down through his dog ancestors. The descriptions of the world in the 13th century are fascinating, and the imagined relationship between Kublai Khan and Polo is intriguing, but due to its complicated structure, this isn't a book for reluctant readers. Illustrations are interspersed throughout. The novel is an excellent supplement for those studying the explorer and his world. Extensive chapter notes are included, but there is no map.—Caroline Tesauro, Radford Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Alan Armstrong’s first book, Whittington, was awarded a Newbery Honor in 2006. He lives with his wife, Martha, a painter, in Massachusetts.


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 830L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (September 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780375833212
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375833212
  • ASIN: 0375833218
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,000,134 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Lindsey Miller on October 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I have mixed feelings about this book. I like the concept well enough, but the execution is a bit dry. It was interesting to learn all of the history surrounding Marco Polo and Venice of that time period, but there wasn't much of a plot to move the story along. I need a little more than a story about a boy, Mark, who doesn't want to be in Venice during Christmas and misses his dad, reluctantly roaming the city to find out more history on Marco Polo. It was certainly a nice history lesson, but as a story overall, it's hard to get through.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By KidsReads on December 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In his award-winning debut novel, WHITTINGTON, Alan Armstrong told the historical story of London mayor Dick Whittington and his cat through the voice of one of that cat's descendants. In LOOKING FOR MARCO POLO, Armstrong again integrates history, fantasy and fiction, this time in the more exotic and evocative setting of Venice.

Eleven-year-old Mark's father is an anthropologist who loves adventure. While on an expedition to trace Marco Polo's route through the Gobi Desert, he disappears suddenly. Mark and his mom, as well as the research institute sponsoring the mission, are pretty sure that he is just accompanying some nomadic herders in search of elusive water. But they're not taking any chances, so they head to Venice --- where Mark's dad's journey began --- to try to get some answers.

While there, Mark has an asthma attack, which brings him in contact with his dad's old friend, Dr. Hornaday. Doc Hornaday helps calm Mark's breathing (and at least some of the fears about his dad) and, most importantly, introduces Mark to his gigantic Tibetan dog, Boss. When all the grownups are asleep, Mark discovers that Boss can talk...and that he's the direct descendant of Marco Polo's own enormous dog. Through a combination of storytelling, dreams and fantasy, Doc Hornaday and Boss help bring the stories of tricky, adventurous Marco Polo --- and the history of their beloved city of Venice --- to life.

Readers will enjoy exploring the alleys and canals of Venice with Mark and his new friends. Armstrong brings the fascinating city vividly to life and illustrates the changes that have befallen the city in the centuries between Marco Polo's times and our own.
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Format: Hardcover
My 7-year-old son really enjoyed this book. He loves stories of adventure and action and this had enough to ignite his imagination and growing passion for history. The action, however, doesn't occur with the characters who physically appear in the book.

Mark and his mother travel from the United States to Venice, Italy to search for clues of their father who's gone missing somewhere along the Silk Road. Mark's father's work took him to some of the same locations that Marco Polo traveled and so while Mark and his mother seek for clues, we are taken on a parallel journey of Mark's father and Marco Polo.

Marco's story is told through eyes of a couple of characters Mark meets during his time in Venice. The first is a doctor and former friend of his father's. The other is the doctor's pet...a big black shaggy dog, just like the Marco had during parts of his travels. Through the stories of these two characters, Mark and the reader are tugged along the broad and widespread tales of Marco Polo - from his beginnings in Venice, though his travels along the Silk Road, and during his time with Kublai Khan in what is now China.

The exposure of Marco Polo and Venice through this story is terrific. My son enjoyed the description of the city and every part of Marco Polo's travels including his return home and his departure. While "Looking for Marco Polo" has some nice illustrations, they certainly don't do the scope and scale of the story justice and I've supplemented the readings with pictures of my own from a recent trip to Italy.

Mark's friends' descriptions of Marco's adventures combine the "facts" around Marco's book, but also includes numerous embellishments and fiction in which the friends 'imagine' what have happened that fill the gaps between stories.
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Format: Paperback
This story of Mark, a contemporary boy whose father is incommunicado in the Gobi Desert, tracing the root of Marco Polo, contains elements of historical, realistic and fantasy fiction, Mark and his mom travel to Venice to expedite his dad's return, where they meet Doc Hornady, who spins the most compelling stories of the real Marco Polo. A reader can get lost in Doc Hornaday's mesmerizing stories, so it is with disappointment when the story is brought up suddenly to the present where Mark's adventures pale in comparison. It came as a surprise that the Doc's big dog, as well as the hotel's resident rats can speak, and that their ancestors knew Marco Polo. Had this fantasy element remained strong and not fade to the background, the story overall could have been more engaging.
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