Keep On!: The Story of Matthew Henson, Co-Discoverer of the North Pole

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Hopkinson's (Sweet Land of Liberty) tribute to Matthew Henson, the African-American explorer credited as being the "co-discoverer" (along with Admiral Robert Peary) of the North Pole in 1909, retells a story gaining traction among picture-book publishers, adding a few welcome embellishments. Henson's own descriptions of the pristine landscape and the Inuit people, who teach him about the "harsh, cold north," are peppered throughout Hopkinson's sturdy prose, while Alcorn's (Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells) characteristically stylized illustrations range from images of classic Americana to organic figures in motion against collage-like backdrops of wild weather. In one detail, sled dogs run skyward, like Santa's reindeer, past what we can assume to be northern lights; elsewhere, wind gusts against the explorers in curling, curving lines. Though Henson emerges as idealized, Hopkinson's description of him as "experienced, resourceful, brave" comes across as well deserved. Ages 6-10. (Jan.)

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Children's Literature - Judy DaPolito
This biography of Matthew Henson, the African-American explorer who discovered the North Pole alongside Admiral Robert Peary, is beautifully illustrated in soft shades with occasional brighter touches of gold or red. The pictures usually cover a full page and half of the facing page and are filled with the swirling motion of roads, winds, waves, icicles, and blowing flags. The text follows Henson from his 1866 birth in a Maryland cabin through a life filled with adventure culminating in the planting of the American flag on the North Pole in 1909. Left alone at thirteen, Henson walked to Baltimore's harbor and convinced the captain of the Katie Hines to take him on as cabin boy, even though he was two years below the legal age. For five years he sailed the world and learned navigation, history, mathematics, and how to build almost anything. After the captain's death, Henson worked in a Washington, D.C. store where he sold a hat to Robert Peary, who was so impressed with him that he took him on as his assistant. With Peary, Henson traveled to Greenland and became friends with the Inuits, who taught him how to speak their language, to hunt in the Arctic, and to build and drive a dog sledge. By 1906, Peary and Henson managed to travel farther north than any other expedition, but storms stopped them two hundred miles from their destination. On July 6, 1908, Peary's team set out on a final attempt. They spent the winter on their ship, getting everything ready for the journey. On March 1, 1909, with 413 miles to travel, the full team started across the frozen Polar Sea, but on April 1, with 133 miles left, Peary sent everyone back to the base camp except four Inuit men and MatthewHenson. Henson's skills with handling the dogs, finding trails, communicating with the Inuits, and fixing equipment made him necessary to their success. And on April 6, they finally watched the flag fly from the spot they had determined was the North Pole. Following the story are three pages describing the social obstacles of the twentieth century that prevented Henson's importance and abilities from being recognized, and giving a time line of his life and later honors. He died in 1955 and was buried in New York, but he and his wife were reburied next to Admiral Peary in Arlington National Cemetery in 1988. The final page also includes book and web sources. Reviewer: Judy DaPolito
School Library Journal

Gr 2-5

This strikingly illustrated picture book tells of the life of a man whose achievements were, until recently, largely overlooked. An African American who was orphaned at age 13, Henson spent his adolescence as a cabin boy and then started working as Robert E. Peary's assistant. After 18 years of exploration, he became much more than an assistant to Peary and was ultimately a vital codiscoverer of the North Pole in 1909. Written in articulate and straightforward prose, and accompanied by quotes from Henson, Keep On! tells the story of an inspiring and courageous figure and is enhanced by Alcorn's dramatic, sweeping scenes.-Sarah O'Holla, Village Community School, New York City

Kirkus Reviews
"Matt was born in 1866, just after the Civil War, at a time when poor black boys like him had few chances to roam the next county, to say nothing of another country, the seven seas, or the top of the world." Nevertheless, he went on to do all of those things, first serving on a China trader and later joining Robert E. Peary in the Arctic explorations that culminated in their reaching the North Pole. Timed to the 100th anniversary of the achievement, this brief biography hits hard on the strengths Henson brought to the partnership-his facility with the Inuit language, his ability to fix nearly anything, his rapport with the sled dogs-presenting readers with a portrait of a singularly determined yet ever-affable man. While Hopkinson's text, which is complemented by excerpts from Henson's memoir, cannot compare in poetic power to Carole Boston Weatherford's I, Matthew Henson, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (2008), its straightforward account has its own appeal. Alcorn's hand-tinted prints feature stylized swirls of waves and snow in monumental tableaux. Handsome. (author's note, timeline, resources) (Picture book/biography. 5-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781561454730
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, Ltd.
  • Publication date: 1/28/2009
  • Pages: 36
  • Sales rank: 1,410,299
  • Age range: 7 - 10 Years
  • Lexile: AD1080L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 11.40 (w) x 9.80 (h) x 0.70 (d)

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