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Thursday, December 3, 2015

Shackleton's Journey, written and illustrated by William Grill. Flying Eye Books, 2014. $27.00 ages 9 and up

"Progress was slow and laborious. Of the 700-odd miles of pack ice, the last 250 miles consisted of tough, solid ice up to 3 feet thick, with pieces up to one mile long. The ship would repeatedly ram the ice at half speed to weaken it and to carve a V into the ice edge. Then the ship would fire its engines and drive full speed into the ice like a giant wedge."

What a remarkable book, and a harrowing story of bravery, endurance and
hope! Factual, yet conversational, it tells the incredible tale of Ernest Shackleton, his crew and their unprecedented attempt to cross Antarctica from sea to sea. It is a survival story of the best kind, told with passion and including the most glorious illustrations, worthy of being chosen for one of The New York Times Book Review's Best Illustrated Children's Book Awards.

While it is nonfiction, it reads like an adventure. The fact that their journey failed to accomplish what they had set out to do is hardly important when their story is shared. Fraught with obstacles to their desired success, the team made the very best of every situation they encountered. First, they lost their ship, the Endurance. Bogged down in ice, and being squeezed from all sides by the brutality of the harsh environment, she finally sank leaving her resolute crew more than 500 miles from civilization. Despite the hardships, the crew carried on, first to safer ice at Patience Camp, and then to Elephant Island.

"After 16 long months, the crew had found solid ground. Dehydrated and hungry, each man ate and drank until he was full. But their troubles were not over yet, as the coastline was exposed to the elements, and a cruel blizzard set in for days ... "

When the crew finally ended their journey in Chile, they had not lost a single member of the crew of the Endurance ... a remarkable feat given the conditions and the setbacks they had faced. It is one terrific tale.

It is the colored pencil illustrations that make this book so memorable. They make us a part of every mile of the journey, and will stun readers with the many details and the vast expanses of land and sea. Beautifully illustrated and endlessly compelling, it is a tribute to explorers, their bravery and their hopes.

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