Chilly Latitudes

By Janice Weaver
Illustrated by David Craig
(Tundra Books, Ontario, 2010, $22.95)

Somewhere between history and folklore lies the story of Henry Hudson. Like most early seventeenth-century explorers, he sought a passage to the East Indies – and the spice wealth such a discovery would bring. But Hudson never found the passage or the fortune it promised. Impatient with his meandering persistence, his crew mutinied. They abandoned him and other sailors, including his son, in Hudson Bay. None of the castoffs were ever seen again. Did the men die of exposure or starvation? Did Inuit people help them? Their remains have never been found, so no one will ever know. However, Hudson’s legacy endures: in North America, his name graces a river, a strait, and the bay in which he disappeared from history.

Relatively little information about Henry Hudson has survived the last four centuries, a fact that Janice Weaver admits freely in Hudson, her biography of the doomed explorer. At the book’s conclusion, she describes how she used old journals, ship logs, and court records to tell the story of Hudson’s voyages. Text boxes illuminate scurvy, whaling, mermaids, navigation, and other facets of seafaring life. Weaver’s vivid description of scurvy may have a tertiary benefit, persuading picky eaters to consume fruits and vegetables once and for all.

Hudson is also a striking picture book. David Craig’s illustrations capture both the romance and danger of seafaring as well as the bleak beauty of the Far North. Period illustrations and maps and older portraits of Hudson teach readers about the seventeenth century and the traditional view of Hudson.

An unusual biography, Hudson is more than a famous person’s life story or an account of Hudson’s voyages. By highlighting Hudson’s mysterious end and discussing her own use of old documents, Weaver introduces young readers to historical research – and invites them to share her excitement.

© Dorothy A. Dahm

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