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I, MATTHEW HENSON by Carole Boston Weatherford Kirkus Star


Polar Explorer

by Carole Boston Weatherford & illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Age Range: 6 - 11

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-8027-9688-2
Publisher: Walker

A poetic first-person narrative puts readers in Matthew Henson’s head as he endures institutionalized discrimination to pursue greatness in adventure, moving from cabin boy to able seaman, stock boy to explorer, eventually one of “[s]ix men—one black, one white, four Eskimos—” to reach the North Pole in 1909. Weatherford sets up her text with a series of negative statements that emphasize Henson’s steely determination: “I did not sail to the tropics [with Peary] just to launder shirts and cook meals. I meant to prove myself as an explorer.” It’s an enormously effective device, laying out for readers Henson’s drive to overcome the roles given to him by an unjust society in his quest for something more. Velasquez’s full-bleed spreads present readers with a larger-than-life figure in equally monumental landscapes, the soft pastels on textured paper giving the illustrations a rough physicality. This effect is particularly evident in the polar scenes, the fuzzy lines evoking rugged rocks and drifting snow with equal success. An author’s note fills in the gaps, including a brief note on Henson’s post-Pole break with Peary that resulted in his decades-long obscurity. Lovely and inspiring. (Picture book/biography. 6-11)