Shackleton's Stowaway

Shackleton's Stowaway

4.5 14
by Victoria McKernan

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On October 26, 1914, Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance set sail from Buenos Aires in pursuit of the last unclaimed prize in exploration: the crossing of the Antarctic continent. The crew stood on deck to watch the city fade away. All but one.

Eighteen-year-old Perce Blackborow hid below in a locker. But the thrill of stowing away with the legendary explorer


On October 26, 1914, Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance set sail from Buenos Aires in pursuit of the last unclaimed prize in exploration: the crossing of the Antarctic continent. The crew stood on deck to watch the city fade away. All but one.

Eighteen-year-old Perce Blackborow hid below in a locker. But the thrill of stowing away with the legendary explorer would soon turn to fear. Within months, the Endurance, trapped and crushed by ice, sank. And even Perce, the youngest member of the stranded crew, knew there was no hope of rescue. If the men were to survive in the most hostile place on earth, they would have to do it on their own.

Victoria McKernan deftly weaves the hard-to-fathom facts of this famous voyage into an epic, edge-of-your-seat survival novel.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
In the fall of 1914 Ernest Shackleton set sail on the good ship Endurance along with a steadfast group of explorers. His goal: to reach and cross Antarctica. In an age of lethal polar expeditions Shackelton's exploration was fraught with risk. Unbeknownst to him and his crew, an eighteen-year-old lad stowed away on the Endurance in order to be part of this voyage of discovery. This lad, Perce Blackborrow, was willing to risk the wrath of Shackleton in order to illicitly join the expedition. While Blackborrow and the other explorers anticipated a rough trip they could never imagine the hardship, pain, and trauma they would encounter. Based upon the true-life story of the Shackleton expedition—and young Perce Blackborrow's role in it—this historical novel takes readers back to one of the most amazing stories of endurance known. Blending a strong narrative style with meticulous research this tale will be a joy to readers interested in survival stories. In the end, Blackborrow persevered despite the terrible suffering he and his mates were forced to endure. In telling this story as fiction Victoria McKernan brings history to life. 2005, Alfred A. Knopf, Ages 12 up.
—Greg M. Romaneck
Perce Blackborow, age 18, stows away on Ernest Shackleton's ship Endurance as it sets out from Buenos Aires in 1914, planning to attempt a first-ever crossing of Antarctica with its adventurous crew. Perce gets more adventure than he bargained for: after just a few months, the ship is first caught and then crushed by ice, and the men set up camp on an ice floe. "Didn't ever think about how there's so many different kinds of bad times," Perce notes glumly in his diary. In the spring, the ice floe breaks up and the men escape by lifeboat to Elephant Island, where Perce suffers from frostbite and must have part of his feet amputated. He learns from Shackleton what true bravery is: "Sometimes it's just keeping quiet when you want to fuss or being optimistic when there's no bloody hope." Shackleton is a kind and indomitable leader: he and a few others head out first by boat and then overland in a desperate and dangerous attempt to seek help, and finally, of course, all the men are safely rescued, Perce among them. As the author explains in a note at the end, Perce and all the other characters were real men, and it's clear that McKernan researched carefully in order to present her fictional tale as accurately as possible. It's a gripping and convincing tale of unimaginable misery and courage, and Perce, the youngest member of the expedition, is a sympathetic protagonist. Readers fascinated by true adventures will appreciate the material at the end, which includes a timeline, a list of the members of the expedition, and an epilogue that explains what happened afterward to each man. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2005, Random House,Knopf, 336p. map. bibliog., and Ages 12 to 18.
—Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-McKernan brings Ernest Shackleton's 1914 expedition to the Antarctic alive through the eyes of its youngest crew member. Perce Blackborow, 18, hides in a cramped locker for two days until the Endurance is at sea before revealing his presence as a stowaway. Given a chance to disembark at South Georgia Island, he signs up as a steward and a gruff Shackleton insists that he write to his family: "Tell them what god-awful mischief you've got yourself into." The ill-fated ship is crushed in the ice hundreds of miles from the nearest whaling station, forcing the crew to drag its lifeboats and gear across unstable ice floes. A perilous voyage takes them to Elephant Island, where they are stranded for months while Shackleton and five others go for help. Perce endures the worst of it, having no feeling in his frostbitten feet. Details of the ensuing amputation of toes are realistic, an example of the author's sharp eye for authenticity. Although fictional, Perce's diary entries add dimension to the character and blend imagination with historical accuracy. Several of the crew members are powerfully brought to life, including Perce's fun-loving mate, Billy; the obsessive rationer, Orde Lees; the compassionate Frank Wild; and Shackleton, the leader they all idolize. Add this suspenseful tale to adventure/survival collections.-Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Wisely using only real people and sticking close to the actual events of Shackleton's ill-fated expedition, McKernan does justice to one of the past century's great true adventure stories. Those events are as dramatic as it comes, as readers of Jennifer Armstrong's Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World (1998) or Elizabeth Cody Kimmel's Ice Story (1999) will attest. Setting out in 1914 to cross Antarctica, Shackleton and 27 men were trapped by ice that eventually destroyed their ship and left them huddled together, barely sheltered from the elements, for 22 months. Teenaged wanderer Perce Blackborow provides the point of view; hoping to measure himself against both nature and his fellow men, he stows away-and finds himself facing harder tests to his courage, spirit, and physical endurance than he'd ever imagined. The author smoothly integrates invented but credible banter and tensions, adds full measures of excitement, terror, boredom, pain, and exhaustion, then closes with sketches of each major participant's later life, plus several resource lists. A compelling alternative to the nonfiction accounts. (Fiction. 11-13)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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Product dimensions:
4.19(w) x 6.88(h) x 0.88(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Just then the door swung open and a frowning man peered into the dark interior. He looked sea-roughened, but not like a common sailor. Someone with rank. A bosun at least, maybe an officer. When he saw the two drunkards, he strode up to their table.
"You buggers! I've better things to do than search all over the docks for you."
"Ah, Mr. Greenstreet!" The talkative one smiled stupidly. "Come and join us for a pint!"
"You were gone all night. You missed your watch."
The sleeping man picked up his head and squinted at the daylight.
"You're both sacked," Greenstreet went on. "You can come pick up your kit until three. After that I'll have it put out on the dock."
"Oh, come on, sir, you wouldn't short a man his wee bit of fun." The talkative man was almost whining. "We've been two months at sea!" The other man just glared silently.
"See Mr. Cheetham to get paid off."
"Paid off, eh?" The second man pulled himself slowly up from the table. He was over six feet tall and looked like he could pull up whole trees with one thick arm. He let out a string of curses. Perce hoped the woman sweeping the floor didn't understand English. The big man threw a punch. It was fast but sloppy. Greenstreet ducked most of it. Chairs scraped and glasses clinked all over the cantina as men cleared back out of the way.
"Should we help him out?" Perce asked tentatively. Perce didn't want his friend to think he was shy of fighting.
"Well, let's give the man his chance."
"But it's two on one, and they're twice his size."
"Watch. He might know what he's doing."
Billy was right. This man Greenstreet knew how to let a man blow off a bit and not get crazy and not get anyone hurt. It turned out to be hardly a fight at all. A little shoving, a lot of swearing. Then two Spanish men came out from behind the bar. One had a stick, the other a sock with lead pellets in the toe. The two drunk sailors backed off. Everything went back to normal.
"Don't bother the others when you come for your things." Greenstreet gave them a disgusted look and left.
"Come on." Perce grabbed his duffel bag.
"Where you going? I haven't finished my beer."
"Didn't you hear the man? There's two places just opened on a ship!"
"Well, for a raw pup you've got some wits after all," Billy said as he gulped the last swallow. Perce and Billy grabbed their kit and hurried outside. The man walked fast and was half a block away before they caught up to him.
"Sir—Mr., uh, Greenstreet—sir," Billy called out. The man turned.
"I'm William Bakewell. This is Perce Blackborow. We lost our ship in Montevideo. She ran aground," he added in case the man might think they had been fired themselves. "You'll be needing some new hands."
Greenstreet gave them a quick look-over. "Experience?" Bakewell explained that he had experience with both sail and steam. No navigation to speak of, but he could keep a course. He mentioned his two last ships, craftily avoiding the fact that they were his only two ships.
"And you?" Greenstreet turned to Perce. Next to Billy, he had little to offer. There were a hundred men within shouting distance with more skill and experience.
"Ordinary seaman, sir," he said quietly. "Very willing."

chapter two

"Ernest Shackleton!" Perce said excitedly. "What I'd give just to meet him!" When Greenstreet had told them exactly what they were applying for, Perce could hardly believe it. The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, under the command of Sir Ernest Shackleton. Billy hadn't heard much about Shackleton, although he was a legend in England.
"So he's the guy that didn't make it to the South Pole?"
"Well, yes, but—"
"And the Brit that did make it—what's his name?"
"Robert Scott," Perce reminded him.
"Yeah, Scott, he died on the way back, right?"
"Yes, but—"
"And that Norwegian guy—Amundsen. He actually got there and came back alive. So he won the race."
"There's more to it than that," Perce said with exasperation. Americans were so bloody stuck on winning and losing. "Do you know how far it is to the South Pole and back?"
"Farther than anybody in their right mind would ever want to go!" Billy laughed.
"It's almost two thousand miles!" Perce said. "And when Shackleton went, back in 1909, he didn't even knew what to expect. No one had seen much beyond the coastline. That'd be like you setting off to walk across the United States, only you didn't even know if there were mountains or deserts or what to cross. Shackleton pioneered the way!"
Perce was surprised at how little Billy knew. In England, polar explorers were regarded as heroes. Magazines printed long stories about them, and people packed lecture halls to listen to them speak. Perce remembered his father reading the newspaper stories aloud to the family. How Shackleton led his men across endless miles of the Ross Ice Shelf, hauling heavy sleds with all their equipment. Sometimes the ice would crack beneath them, opening a huge crevasse hundreds of feet deep. They found an enormous glacier, a mountain of ice blocking the way. Shackleton and his men clawed their way up. For weeks they trudged across a high plateau where the air was so thin, they could barely breathe. It was freezing cold. Blizzard winds knocked them down. They walked for 660 miles. They were almost there, only ninety-seven miles from the South Pole, when Shackleton turned around.
He knew they didn't have enough food. They were already desperately hungry and exhausted. They suffered from frostbite. They were only covering six or eight miles a day. He knew they could reach the South Pole, but he didn't think he could get them all back alive. He could be the most famous explorer in the world, but instead he turned around.
Perce was eleven years old then, far too old to cry, but as he heard about the desperate struggle at the bottom of the world, he couldn't help it. "Two years after that, Scott made another try for the pole," Perce explained. "He followed Shackleton's route. It still wasn't easy, of course, but at least he knew what to expect. Scott did reach the South Pole but found out Amundsen had already been there by a different route. Then Scott and his men all died on the way back."

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4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
kenton123 More than 1 year ago
In this book Shackleton's plan was to cross Antarctica with dogsleds, but they never reached land. Instead, the adventure turned into a two-year battle for survival. As the ship neared the frozen continent, it made slow progress through the "ice pack," giant ice floes with very little space between them. Then the sea simply froze solid, and the Endurance was stuck for months. When the ice pack thawed and the floes started moving, their danger greatly increased. Soon the ship was crushed between two floes and had to be abandoned. They survived a harrowing journey in lifeboats across the icy sea, finally arriving at a small, rocky island. Their food supplies nearly gone, they survived on whatever seals and penguins they could find. Shackleton and a few other men set out in one of the lifeboats for another island 800 miles away where they hoped to get help. Now everyone needed the endurance that had been the name of their ship. The author, Victoria McKernan, turned this true story into a novel after careful research into the diaries of the ship's crew and books about the expedition. She shares the details of the ordeal, like the taste of seal meat, Perce's encounter with a killer whale, and the agonizing pain of his frost-bitten toes. I felt sad, and it made me wonder how do some people find the courage and stamina to survive the cold weather like that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought thus book went a little slow
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book, based on a true story, is a wonderful read. I use it as a "read aloud" for my 5th grade class. Our regular Language Arts book has a shortened version of the story, so I decided to read the story in its entirety - a little each day. Even though the students knew the ending, they were absolutely captivated by the full length version and groaned each time I had to put it away for the day. I highly recommend this book - for all ages!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book i lived every minute of it and couldn't wait to keep reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good story. Youth appropriate.
Kelly Hammons More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is an amazing book about hard times that men sailing had to over come. Even though penguins and seals were their only hope for life, they never stopped trying. I could not put this book down. I read it in two days and I loved it! I recommend this book to anyone that wants an easy read, and who is looking for a story that will keep you on your toes!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think that Shackleton¿s Stowaway by Victoria McKernan is a very adventurous story. I would definitely recommend this to 10 year olds and 54 year olds alike. This historical fiction novel is funny, but at times things seem hopeless. It takes place mostly in the North Pole, the place with icebergs and dangerous pack ice. Only if you do not like rather long books would I not recommend this to you: it has 312 pages. Perce Blackborow, a brave fellow, but also maybe a daredevil is a sailor. He is 18 and looking for a boat to sail on¿ until he hears about Ernest Shackleton and his Endurance. He signs up to get a place in those 25 on the Endurance, but sadly he does not get chosen. Frank Wild, second in command of the expedition lets him work with the dogs until the Endurance left. Bill, his brother, suggests that he should stow away and they agree. What will happen to Perce? I think the best part of the book is when Frank Wild finds out that Perce had stowed away. A quote from the book is: ¿When the sailor opened his locker a few minutes later, he was surprised to find an extra pair of boots. He was even more surprised to discover these boots had feet inside them and these feet were attached to Perce Blackborow.¿ It seems kind of funny when you read it, but if you think about it, it makes you feel like you were him or the sailor. Shackleton¿s Stowaway is a very good book with lots of suspense.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would highly recommend the book Shackleton¿s Stowaway by Victoria MeKernan. The book genre is historic non-fiction. The book has three main settings that are: Antarctica, Elephant Rock, and Buenos Aires. This book tells the story about Perce Blackborow, and how he hid in a locker to get on board with the legendary Ernest Shackelton who was going on a voyage with the sailors he picked to cross Antarctica. The story is about how Ernest found Perce on the ship and put him into his crew. When they got to Antarctica their ship gets trapped and they have to escape quickly before they run out of food or the ice makes them go crazy and die. It was an amazing survival story that kept me at the edge of my seat. My favorite scene is when they make a camp for the ice to melt so they can sail out of the Antarctic. This is my favorite scene because when they go hunting they found a walrus who started chasing one of the men, and even though he was wearing cross country skis and the walrus weighed more than 400 pounds, he had to keep on skiing to avoid the walrus until the hunter had to shoot the walrus 3 times before the walrus stopped chasing him. When they had finally got the walrus, they started laughing and cheering. This is my favorite scene because before the walrus incident, they had been sad and bored. But when that had happened it brought happiness to the camp. After that the camp had a bit more motivation so that they won¿t give up and so they will continue forward. From reading this book, I learned that things first get worse but then get a whole lot better. I like how the author makes describes the events that are taking place, and how people felt. I thought the book was a great book, but it has a lot of characters to be keeping track of. The reading level of the book was a bit lengthy at 312 pages and small print. I would never forget this book because I am always reminded of its lesson, ¿first things are bad but then they get better.¿ This will probably always be one of my favorite stories for a long time. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes survival stories and historical fiction.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book, Shackleton's Stowaway, is by far one of the most amazing and heart felt books I have ever read.... and I'm just 14! I'm not a big reader but this book I could not put down - I read 179 pages of it in one day! To be honest I picked it because of the cool cover haha... Everyone should read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was one of the coolest books I've read in years - and I'm an adult! I'm a children's writer myself and had this in my own personal top-ten list for the Newbery. Fascinating. A must-read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In 1914, 18-year-old Welshman Perce Blackborow and his American shipmate Billy Bakewell find themselves stranded in Buenos Aires after losing their berths to a shipwreck. Famed British polar explorer Ernest Shackleton's ship Endurance is in port, and needs replacements for two drunken crewmen. Billy gets hired because of his already rare 'even this close to the golden age of sail' experience with sailing vessels but Perce, who has nothing to offer except youth, strength, and willingness to work hard, only manages to join the expedition by hiding in another sailor's footlocker until the ship is too far at sea for Shackleton to do anything except put the stowaway to work. The great man, whom Perce holds in awe, warns the youngster that in times of desperation stowaways are always eaten first! So begins Victoria McKernan's novel based on the real Perce Blackborow, who did everything ascribed to him in her book except keep a journal. She takes the carefully researched facts of this adventure 'chronicled by Shackleton himself in South' and writes them from the viewpoints of the men involved, and the result enthralled me. This is listed as a novel for teens, but I found it well worth an adult reader's time. I especially appreciated the author's notes at the book's end, in which she identified the few points at which she took liberties with known facts 'mostly a matter of tweaking the time line to give her story a smoother flow'. Hopefully many readers in her intended audience will go on to read South, and wind up - like me - hooked on such books for life.