Monday, July 25, 2016

Nonfiction Monday: Lives of the Explorers by Kathleen Krull and Kathryn Hewitt

I read this because I chose this for a book club. I chose this because I actually wanted another book. Let me explain! I really wanted to use one of Kathleen Krull's books from her new series, Women who broke the rules. They're great middle grade chapter biographies, not too long, with pizzaz and interest. Unfortunately, they're just too new - not enough libraries have them for me to get a set for book club. So I scrolled through Krull's many other titles and picked this one, to be totally honest, rather at random.

The introduction explains the varied reasons people explored the world and reminds readers that not all those explorations ended happily. Each explorer has a few pages, a map, and a caricature. The featured explorers are predominantly the familiar white males - Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, James Cook, Daniel Boone, Richard Byrd, August and Jacques Piccard. But the line-up does include more diverse choices; Ibn Battuta, Isabella Bird, Mary Kingsley, Matthew Henson, Zheng Che, and Sally Ride. The brief biographies give just enough information to get a good idea of the person's character, highlights of their lives, and inspire readers to research more.

In the profile of Zheng He, "Chinese commander of seven voyages to thirty countries" we learn a little about Chinese history, the legends that formed around Zheng He, and see on a map his remarkable accomplishments. Mary Kingsley "English explorer of little-known parts of Africa" is presented in all her complex life, from her refusal to support women's right to vote to her adamant opposition to organized religion and her support for the rights of native tribes. The story of August and Jacque Piccard introduces the reader to a family of scientists and explorers and we learn how their inventions and discoveries influenced both their family and others, from Jacques Cousteau to cartoonist Herge. The book ends with a spread of "more pioneers of space exploration" included Mae Jemison, Guion Bluford, and a list of sources for further reading.

Verdict: Reluctant readers may be more willing to pick this up than a more "standard" book on exploration. Krull is witty, brief, and informative and the short chapters will allow them to pick and choose stories to read. The caricatures are very similar to the popular "who was" series and will also gain interest. On the other side of the coin, it's difficult to get kids to pick up nonfiction that looks too much like a picture book and this will need some booktalking. Still, I'm glad I chose it for my book club.

ISBN: 9780152059101; Published 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

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