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Onward: A Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson

Overview

The conquest of the North Pole was an elusive, almost impossible goal at the beginning of the last century. But a son of patrician parents, Robert E. Peary, and a son of sharecroppers, Matthew Henson, shared a dream of conquering the unconquered North Pole and were brave enough to risk their lives numerous times before they finally succeeded. Henson's great physical stamina and his ability to speak Inuit and develop warm relationships with the peoples of the Arctic were indispensable to the quest. He mastered the...

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Overview

The conquest of the North Pole was an elusive, almost impossible goal at the beginning of the last century. But a son of patrician parents, Robert E. Peary, and a son of sharecroppers, Matthew Henson, shared a dream of conquering the unconquered North Pole and were brave enough to risk their lives numerous times before they finally succeeded. Henson's great physical stamina and his ability to speak Inuit and develop warm relationships with the peoples of the Arctic were indispensable to the quest. He mastered the complexities of the dog sled and led the team across the layers of ice that covered the frigid, threatening Arctic Ocean. Henson and Peary's jubilation at finally reaching the Pole was later tempered by the controversy that swirled around their achievement. Once their deed was recognized, African-American Henson still was not. It took history a long time to hail him as a hero of exploration.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Stunning archival photographs from the early 20th century help tell the inspiring story of the African-American polar explorer. The story demonstrates that fortitude, strength, and loyalty are not determined by the color of one’s skin, but by the determination of one’s spirit." —starred review, School Library Journal
Children's Literature
Matthew Henson was strong willed and independent from the day he was orphaned as a child until he set foot on the North Pole in 1909. He once walked forty miles to Baltimore to become a sailor and would later walk days breaking trails through the Arctic ice. Henson first joined Commander Robert Peary on an expedition to Nicaragua before making four successive trips to the Arctic. Although he died in 1955, it was not until 1988 that he was interred next to Robert Peary at Arlington National Cemetery and 2001 when he was posthumously awarded the National Geographic Society's Hubbard Medal. Leila Savoy Andrade, a surviving descendant of Henson, was a security guard for the National Geographic Society when that medal was awarded to her great-great-great uncle. In her foreword to the book, she writes of the stories told about the family explorer. This biography is written almost like a gripping novel, holding the reader's attention as each new expedition confronts challenges, including being charged by a wounded musk ox and losing toes to frost bite. Well-placed photos, maps, and quotes add to the drama. Both Henson and Peary fathered children out of wedlock with Inuit Eskimo women and the final photo shows Henson's Inuit son visiting his father's gravesite on his first visit to the United States. The book includes a good timeline, bibliography, and index—an excellent introduction to a man of courage and adventure who is all too often forgotten. 2006, National Geographic Society, Ages 8 to 16.
—Karen Leggett
VOYA
In the latter half of the twentieth century, the eyes lifted heavenward to watch humankind reach the moon. At the beginning of that century, eyes looked to the desolation of the poles. In 1909, Matthew Henson and Commander Robert Peary reached the North Pole. Although there is every indication that Henson arrived first, Peary claimed Henson's calculations were erroneous. Henson was born into a sharecropper's family in Charles County, Maryland, in 1866. The family soon moved to Washington, DC. At thirteen, he walked forty miles to Baltimore to become a cabin boy. In 1887, Peary hired him to help survey a proposed canal route through Nicaragua and in 1891 took him on as part of the Arctic expeditions. From the beginning, Henson was referred to as Peary's "Negro manservant," but he was a full member of the expeditions. Henson was beloved of the Inuit and quickly learned the skills to survive in the inhospitable Arctic. He had a good working relationship with Peary but the two were not close outside the Arctic. The volume contains wonderful pictures that go beyond the normal flag-holding poses. Photos of Henson's Inuit descendants are shown. Back in the United States, Henson still had to take low-level jobs. His accomplishments were virtually ignored by all but a few until quite late in his life. Johnson provides an excellent volume that gives insight into the men as well as the expeditions, with particular appeal to middle school readers. VOYA CODES: 4Q 5P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Every YA (who reads) was dying to read it yesterday; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12).2006, National Geographic, 64p.; Index. Illus. Photos. Maps. Biblio. Source Notes. Chronology., Ages 11 to 18.
—Mike Brown
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Stunning archival photographs from the early 20th century help tell the inspiring story of the African-American polar explorer. They document the excursions of Robert E. Peary and include some of the first images captured of the Inuit people and of the North Pole. Henson was hired as Peary's manservant, though proved himself a loyal friend and worthy trailblazer in the fierce, frozen conditions at the top of the world. Henson's story is told in informative, descriptive prose based on research from ample resources. Surviving family members help personalize this ennobling biography of a deserving innovator and the only person to be awarded National Geographic Society's Hubbard Medal posthumously. The story demonstrates that fortitude, strength, and loyalty are not determined by the color of one's skin, but "by the determination of one's spirit."-Jodi Kearns, University of Akron, OH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"Our breath was frozen to our hoods of fur and our cheeks and noses frozen . . . it was a night of Plutonian Purgatory." Drawing from Henson's autobiography and other published sources, Johnson vividly chronicles the explorer's life and exploits with, understandably, particular reference to the multiple attempts he and Robert Peary made to reach the North Pole, as well as the dismal reluctance subsequently shown by American authorities and public to acknowledge his role in the achievement. Illustrated with dim, grey-and-silver expedition photos that capture a sense of the bitter Arctic climate (capped by a newer shot of one of Henson's Inuit descendants), this frank account pays tribute to the characters and abilities of both Henson and Peary. This is a more readable and visually appealing version than Laura Litwin's Matthew Henson: Co-Discoverer of the North Pole (2001). (chronology, resource list) (Biography. 10-13)
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Dolores Johnson lives in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author and/or illustrator of more than 17 books for children, many on African-American themes. They include Now Let Me Fly: The Story of a Slave Family and The Children's Book of Kwanzaa. This is her first book for National Geographic.

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