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Onward: A Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson (National Geographic Photographer Series) Hardcover – December 27, 2005
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From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 5-8–Stunning archival photographs from the early 20th century help tell the inspiring story of the African-American polar explorer. They document the excursions of Robert E. Peary and include some of the first images captured of the Inuit people and of the North Pole. Henson was hired as Pearys manservant, though proved himself a loyal friend and worthy trailblazer in the fierce, frozen conditions at the top of the world. Hensons story is told in informative, descriptive prose based on research from ample resources. Surviving family members help personalize this ennobling biography of a deserving innovator and the only person to be awarded National Geographic Societys Hubbard Medal posthumously. The story demonstrates that fortitude, strength, and loyalty are not determined by the color of ones skin, but by the determination of ones spirit.–Jodi Kearns, University of Akron, OH
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Gr. 5-8. The quest to be the first to reach the North Pole is an exciting adventure story, and Henson got there first, as part of the ninth expedition led by Robert Peary in 1909. But Henson was African American, labeled as Peary's "Negro manservant," and he did not get full recognition until 2001. This entry in the National Geographic^B Photobiography series focuses on the physical details of the dangerous Arctic journeys ("Harsh winds stung their faces. Giant fissures of ice threatened every step"), the repeated failures and the teamwork, as well as Henson's skills, stamina, and essential role in forging relationships with the Inuit. Johnson avoids diatribe, clearly pointing out the respectful relationship between Peary and Henson. At the same time, the racism comes clear: "the frozen, bleak Arctic was more hospitable than his own country." What's more, upon returning home from his extraordinary travels, Henson found himself still forced to take menial jobs such as stockboy. The book design is beautiful: thick paper, spacious type, and stirring photos that capture the icy storms as well as the people involved in the history. Back matter includes a glossary, a chronology, a bibliography, a few Web sites, and notes for direct quotes. Readers older than the target audience will be equally moved by the achievement of the sharecropper's son who explored the world. For another great Polar adventure, recommend Jennifer Armstrong's Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World (1999). Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Book fails to live up to the claims of the published editorial reviews. "Stunning archival photographs" are few and mundane. Story line about Black explorer Matthew Henson is minimal and at times minimized. Hardly inspiring.
By the time I finished reading the book and studying the photographs, I felt like I knew Henson and Perry personally.
The book is oversized and the text is interesting. However, most of the sentences are long and sometimes there are as many as 35 lines on a page. This may overwhelm junior high school readers, but please add copies to your library shelves for those readers who can handle the text. They will enjoy shivering their way though the brutal winds, bitter cold, and tons of snow and ice with these two tough, brave explorers.