Looking for Marco Polo

Looking for Marco Polo

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by Alan Armstrong, Tim Jessell

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Newbery Honor–winning author Alan Armstrong’s latest book!

Eleven-year-old Mark's anthropologist father has disappeared in the Gobi desert while tracing Marco Polo’s ancient route from Venice to China. His mother decides they must go to Venice to petition the agency that sent Mark’s father to send out a search party. Anxious about


Newbery Honor–winning author Alan Armstrong’s latest book!

Eleven-year-old Mark's anthropologist father has disappeared in the Gobi desert while tracing Marco Polo’s ancient route from Venice to China. His mother decides they must go to Venice to petition the agency that sent Mark’s father to send out a search party. Anxious about his father and upset about spending Christmas away from home, Mark gets a bad asthma attack in the middle of the night. That’s when Doc Hornaday, an old friend of Mark’s father, makes a house call, along with a massive black Tibetan mastiff called Boss. To distract Mark from his wheezing and to pass the long Venetian night, the Doc starts to spin for Mark the tale of Marco Polo. Doc describes Marco’s travels and the boy finds himself falling under the spell of the story that has transfixed the world for centuries. Marco’s journey bolsters Mark’s courage and whets his appetite for risk and adventure, and for exposure to life in all its immense and fascinating variety.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Ellen Welty
When Mark Hearne's father leaves for a six-month-long expedition to the Gobi Desert that traces the path of Marco Polo, Mark is worried. When he and his mom stop hearing from his dad, his worry turns to fear. They travel to Venice to talk to the agency that his dad travelled with to get some help locating him. Mark finds Venice to be strange and a little intimidating, and the situation gets worse when he gets sick. The doctor who treats him has an enormous dog that has a connection to Marco Polo. After the doctor goes to sleep the dog and Mark become friends, and the dog tells Mark the story of Marco Polo. The author's earlier book, Whittington, won a Newbery Honor and the author uses a similar method in this story. The narrative technique uses an animal as both the protagonist and the narrator. Unfortunately, the author varies the technique here, and it does not work as well. In Whittington the narrator, a cat, is also the protagonist so the story has an immediacy that this story lacks. Here, although the narrator is another animal, the dog is not the protagonist. That role belongs to Mark, but his contribution to the story is largely that of a listener. The divided point of view will be difficult for some readers to overcome and even though the story of Marco Polo itself is heroic, children will have a hard time relating either to Mark or to the dog. Reviewer: Ellen Welty
School Library Journal
Gr 5–7—This story within a story brings to life the adventures of the famed 13th-century Venetian explorer. It begins in the modern day with the disappearance of 11-year-old Mark's father, who is tracing Polo's route through the Gobi desert. Mark and his mother travel to Venice to help with the search. While there, Mark has a terrible asthma attack and meets his dad's army friend Dr. Hornaday, who decides to entertain his patient with imaginative stories about Marco Polo. His tales are full of color and excitement; the details, although they are not based on known historical events, are grounded in the author's research on Polo's times and the places he claimed to have seen. The narrative becomes a little confusing: Hornaday's dog can talk to Mark and describes what Polo's homecoming to Venice was like, as passed down through his dog ancestors. The descriptions of the world in the 13th century are fascinating, and the imagined relationship between Kublai Khan and Polo is intriguing, but due to its complicated structure, this isn't a book for reluctant readers. Illustrations are interspersed throughout. The novel is an excellent supplement for those studying the explorer and his world. Extensive chapter notes are included, but there is no map.—Caroline Tesauro, Radford Public Library, VA
Kirkus Reviews
The author of Whittington (2005) profiles another medieval celebrity using a similar scenario-fleshing out historical incidents with imagined but thoroughly researched details and conversations and framing the entire narrative as a tale told to a rapt modern audience. When his anthropologist father goes missing on a Marco Polo-related expedition to the Gobi, 11-year-old Mark and his mother fly to Venice. As they wait for news, Mark visits local landmarks that Marco Polo would have known, absorbs historical background from a group of Venetian rats and a Tibetan mastiff and meets Dr. Hornaday, a friend of his father's, who regales him with a harrowing account of the 13th-century traveler's journey. Though laced with facts-what goods traveled over the Silk Road? "Rats, umbrellas, noodles, hissing cockroaches, ideas, walnuts, opium, gunpowder, and a whole lot more," says Hornaday-Armstrong's tale-within-a-tale never becomes pedantic. Young readers will likely skip the 25-plus pages of source notes at the end, but they will come away with vivid pictures of Marco Polo's character and world, plus the satisfaction of experiencing a well-told story. (Fantasy. 11-13)
Publishers Weekly
Newbery Honor author Armstrong (Whittington) weaves the story of Marco Polo into an entertaining contemporary tale. Eleven-year-old Mark's father, a passionate anthropologist, leaves for a six-month research trip to study Mongol herders in the Gobi Desert. When his father disappears, Mark and his mother travel to Venice in the hopes of finding him through the agency he works for. There, Mark suffers an asthma attack and spends time with Doctor Hornaday, an acquaintance of his father's, and his mastiff, Boss, both of whom are Marco Polo scholars and great storytellers ("Stories and strangenesses are like falling feathers—they pass and are gone forever unless you catch them as they go," remarks Hornaday). Like Mark, readers should quickly be drawn into Marco Polo's colorful life and his travels, a story purportedly passed down through generations of people and animals ("Dogs have history just like people," Boss tells Jack. "We know. We remember"). Mark's authentic and emotional letters to his father and Jessell's detailed pencil drawings enhance this rich recreation of the late 13th century. Ages 8—12. (Sept.)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
File size:
5 MB
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Alan Armstrong’s first book, Whittington, was awarded a Newbery Honor in 2006. He lives with his wife, Martha, a painter, in Massachusetts.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Looking for Marco Polo 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Debbie Muller More than 1 year ago
A very exciting storry with lots of stories
JGolomb More than 1 year ago
My 7-year-old son really enjoyed this book. He loves stories of adventure and action and this had enough to ignite his imagination and growing passion for history. The action, however, doesn't occur with the characters who physically appear in the book. Mark and his mother travel from the United States to Venice, Italy to search for clues of their father who's gone missing somewhere along the Silk Road. Mark's father's work took him to some of the same locations that Marco Polo traveled and so while Mark and his mother seek for clues, we are taken on a parallel journey of Mark's father and Marco Polo. Marco's story is told through eyes of a couple of characters Mark meets during his time in Venice. The first is a doctor and former friend of his father's. The other is the doctor's pet...a big black shaggy dog, just like the Marco had during parts of his travels. Through the stories of these two characters, Mark and the reader are tugged along the broad and widespread tales of Marco Polo - from his beginnings in Venice, though his travels along the Silk Road, and during his time with Kublai Khan in what is now China. The exposure of Marco Polo and Venice through this story is terrific. My son enjoyed the description of the city and every part of Marco Polo's travels including his return home and his departure. While "Looking for Marco Polo" has some nice illustrations, they certainly don't do the scope and scale of the story justice and I've supplemented the readings with pictures of my own from a recent trip to Italy. Mark's friends' descriptions of Marco's adventures combine the "facts" around Marco's book, but also includes numerous embellishments and fiction in which the friends 'imagine' what have happened that fill the gaps between stories. As an adult I've found this a little awkward and find myself clarifying to my son what's real and what's not. For myself, I think of this book as 3 stars. Because my son has enjoyed it so much, I have to bump up the rating considering he's more of the target demographic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lindsey_Miller More than 1 year ago
I have mixed feelings about this book. I like the concept well enough, but the execution is a bit dry. It was interesting to learn all of the history surrounding Marco Polo and Venice of that time period, but there wasn't much of a plot to move the story along. I need a little more than a story about a boy, Mark, who doesn't want to be in Venice during Christmas and misses his dad, reluctantly roaming the city to find out more history on Marco Polo. It was certainly a nice history lesson, but as a story overall, it's hard to get through. -Lindsey Miller, www.lindseyslibrary.com