From Camel to Spaceship

9780152059101_hresLives of the Explorers: Discoveries, Disasters (and What the Neighbors Thought)
By Kathleen Krull
Illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, Boston, $20.99)

When Americans think of explorers, they normally recall the names they learned in school: the men who brought large ships to the Western Hemisphere, set sailing records, and perhaps gave their name to various locations. In Lives of the Explorers, Kathleen Krull and illustrator Kathryn Hewitt introduce middle-grade readers to a host of discovering sorts, some of whom they will not cover in school.

Columbus, Magellan, and Hudson all receive a mention here, but the collective biography also celebrates earlier – and just as intrepid – travelers, including Marco Polo and Leif Ericson and twentieth-century innovators such as astronaut Sally Ride. In between come American pioneer Daniel Boone, African-American polar explorer Matthew Henson, and Isabella Bird and Mary Kingsley, English women who defied social convention to travel solo in the nineteenth century. Krull writes short profiles of each explorer, emphasizing each figure’s early life, thrilling adventures, and often colorful personality. Her accounts are never dull: readers learn just how Captain Cook disciplined his crew and what Jacques Piccard saw at the bottom of the ocean. Hewitt’s illustrations continue this lively approach as a gently humorous portrait of the subject accompanies each profile. For example, a huge, helmeted Magellan dances atop a tiny ship, and an enormous, but meditative Lewis, Clark, and Sacajewea crowd into a small canoe. Maps that show subjects’ routes and evoke early cartography appear with some profiles, so readers see just how far these men and women ventured from their homes.

The Lives of the Explorers frontispiece is a portrait of Tianfei, ancient Chinese goddess of seafarers. A small illustration spanning the dedication and title pages depicts a rocket blasting up into space. Hewitt has placed the rocket in the bottom half of the page: below it is steam and beyond it is white space. If humans have discovered much, there is still much left to explore, Hewitt and Krull suggest, and this is perhaps the most exciting message of this entertaining and inspiring book.

-Dorothy A. Dahm


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