Review Blog

Mar 22 2016

True stories of polar adventures by Paul Dowswell

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Usborne, 2015. ISBN 9781474903820
(Age: Upper middle primary) One of the first places on this planet little children get to know about is the North Pole, that legendary, mythical home of Father Christmas, aka Santa Claus. Marked by a red and white striped pole and inhabited by the man himself and his wife, industrious elves and magical reindeer, it is a place of mystery, intrigue and imagination. It is hard to believe that just over a century ago that that was exactly the aura that shrouded this place as expedition after expedition tried to uncover its secrets for over 500 years. Perhaps that is why it was designated as Santa's home - it was so remote and unattainable that no one would ever discover the truth. From Sir Edward Willoughby's unsuccessful attempt to find the northeast passage in 1553 until the still-disputed claims of Frederick Cook and Robert Peary in 1908 it, with its southern equivalent, was considered to be the Holy Grail of exploration.
This book, written for middle-upper primary readers, contains the stories of some of the most intrepid Arctic and Antarctic explorers - those who succeeded and those who didn't; those who went for the adventure and those who went for other reasons - and introduces a new generation to the hardships, trials and tribulations of what such a short time ago was the last bastion of exploration before the age of flight and radio let alone satellites and GPS.
Included are the stories of Roald Amundsen, the first to the South Pole and who beat my own personal hero Sir Robert Falcon Scott by five weeks, but whose story is often over-shadowed by that of Scott's because of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Scott and his companions. As I re-read the stories of the conquerors of the south, once again I realised the impact that their journeys have had on my own life all these years later as my mother was determined to visit Scott's Hut (and did so in 1968 as the first female journalist to go south) and Scott's story The worst journey in the world by Apsley Cherry-Garrard was as familiar to me as The famous five!
Illustrated with maps of the various expeditions but sadly no photos, True stories of polar adventures could serve as just the introduction to the exploration of these unique, hostile lands and spark an interest in what it is that drives people to put their life on the line to go where none has gone before and to delve deeper into these tales of 'hardihood, endurance and courage'. This is but a taster of an extraordinary smorgasbord of adventure stories linked by the most hostile environments on the planet.
Barbara Braxton

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