Race to the Frozen North by Catherine Johnson – Review

Matthew Henson was simply an ordinary man. That was, until Commander Robert E. Peary entered his life, and offered him a chance at true adventure. Henson would become navigator, Craftsman, Translator, and right-hand man on a treacherous journey to the North Pole. Defying the odds and the many prejudices that faced him to become a true pioneer.

Those of you who follow me on twitter will know that I am a big fan of both Barrington Stoke and Catherine Johnson, so I leapt at the chance of a copy of her new title for them.

This is the story of the first man to reach the North Pole, but not the man celebrated for it. It tells us about his life from the day he ran away from his step-mother’s home until the day he was finally (very belatedly) recognised for his contribution to the expedition. The language is simple but evocative, the characters that he meets are brought to life in a few words of description and then a boy’s (becoming a man’s) view of their acts. You’ll shake your head in frustration at his treatment at the hands of white people while on land, incompatible with his experiences adventuring. His acceptance of “this is how life is” is devastating but real. The three parts to the story are wonderfully highlighted by the vignettes on every page by Katie Hickey.I realised that Catherine Johnson has written about Matthew Henson for Barrington Stoke before, some of you might have Arctic Hero in your biography section of the library, but this is a far more personal vision of his life. A quick read that packs an entire life in, and what a life!

For those of you that don’t know: Barrington Stoke have a well deserved reputation for creating very readable books to appeal to reluctant or struggling readers, having developed a unique dyslexia friendly font and pioneered the use of tinted paper. They have an ever growing catalogue of specially commissioned titles from an amazing range of authors for all ages/reading ages of children. These titles are always beautiful demonstrations of how, sometimes, less is more, and that a book doesn’t have to be difficult to read in order to be worth reading. If school librarians or teachers are reading this, look into getting your students signed up to be young editors.

 

About Caroline Fielding

Chartered School Librarian, CILIP YLG London Chair, Bea-keeper

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