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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hudson, written by Janice Weaver and illustrated by David Craig. Tundra, 2010. $24.99 ages 9 and up

"We know surprisingly little about
Henry Hudson for a man who left
his name on so much of the map of
North America. We don't even know
for sure what he looked like. All the
portraits we have of him were made
after his death by people who never
knew him, so they may not look anything
like him."

I admit to remembering almost nothing about the explorer Henry Hudson, despite a history minor at university. In that, I am likely much like many young historians who will read this book, or have it shared with them in a classroom setting. That is the distinctive appeal of such wonderful picture book biographies. As must happen, the author of such a book for the middle years reader chooses carefully the events that will hold the most meaning from one person's life. Janice Weaver tells her story in a way that makes it real and personal for her audience.

Henry Hudson was a driven man, who did not accept failure or defeat. In four separate voyages he sought a way to the riches of Asia, and in each voyage, he was unsuccessful. This book provides much information about those attempts to find a passage to the east and the conditions under which Hudson and his crews, always including his son John, sailed. Through the journal entries of Hudson and of his crew members, we learn that he was a determined man with strong opinions, unwavering courage and an inability to lead.

His name is given to the Hudson River, which he explored on his third voyage and to the Hudson Strait which provides a route into Hudson Bay. He was instrumental in finding a way to the riches of Canada's interior. His final voyage was indeed his final one. Much of his crew, led by Robert Juet, mutinied while facing starvation and poor leadership:

"They grabbed Hudson as he emerged from his cabin and tied his hands behind his back, taking him and seven other crew members - including young John - prisoner. Prickett begged the mutineers 'to remember themselves, and to do as they would be done unto'. But Juet and the others were unmoved, and Henry Greene declared that he'd 'rather be hanged at home than starved abroad.' As Prickett watched helplessly, the captured men, some still in their nightclothes, were forced into the Discovery's small shallop."

The nine men aboard were never seen again.

David Craig's historical imaginings are exceptionally good, and provide readers with context for much of what happens on Hudson's voyages. The harsh conditions, the endless water, the disgruntled crew, the massive ships, and the abject despair of those aboard the shallop (as shown on the front cover) give readers a clear notion for the life of this courageous and visionary man, who is too often remembered for his tragic end rather than his daring feats of exploration.

In the back matter, author Janice Weaver discusses the monuments placed in his memory and the routes named for him. She encourages her readers to find more information in books and online. Credits and acknowledgements for archival works are provided and an index helps lead readers back to the text and areas of special interest.

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