Just imagine yourself in the most hostile place on earth. It's not the Sahara or the Gobi Desert. It's not the Arctic. The most hostile place on earth is the Antarctic...[where] in the winter, the temperature can sink to 100 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Cold air masses sliding down the sides of the glaciers speed up until they become winds of close to 200 miles per hour. When winter descends on the southern continent, the seas surrounding the land begin to freeze at the terrifying rate of two square miles every minute, until the frozen sea reaches an area of 7 million square miles, about twice the size of the United States. It is truly the most hostile environment this side of the moon. Just imagine yourself stranded in such a place....
from Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World
Sounds like a great introduction for an exciting video game, doesn't it? Or maybe a new adventure movie starring your favorite Hollywood heartthrob? Can you hear the wind howling against the glaciers now?
Believe it or not, this is a true story. In 1915, 28 men were stranded on the ice in Antarctica. Led by Sir Ernest Shackleton, already a celebrated hero around the world for his previous adventures and bravery, the team was trying to become the first group of explorers to cross Antarctica from one side to another. They were only 100 miles from land when their ship, named the Endurance, became trapped in the frozen sea. The pressure of the shifting ice was enough to crush the massive vessel, leaving the crew with no option but to set up camp on a slowly moving floe of ice. No one knew where they were because, of course, this was long before the invention of radar or radio signals powerful enough to travel between this wasteland and the rest of civilization. Their only hope, as the Antarctic winter picked up force around them, was to send someone across the bitter, stormy sea to fetch help.
Amazing, yes? Here's what's even more amazing: Every single member of the team -- including the two surgeons, the scientists, the seamen, the cook, and even the stowaway -- survived this incredible ordeal.
With a voice bubbling with infectious excitement and wonder, Jennifer Armstrong narrates this remarkable adventure. In Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World, she takes us inside the ship, describing its stores (powdered milk, tobacco, canned meats, liquor, coal, rifles, lifeboats, lanterns, soccer balls, dogsleds) and its inhabitants (strong Irish sailors, a banjo-playing meteorologist, a daredevil photographer, and even the carpenter's sneaky tomcat, named, confusingly, Mrs. Chippy). Armstrong, a celebrated author of such young adult novels as The Dreams of Mairhe Mehan and Black-Eyed Susan, brings her considerable story-crafting talents to this real-life tale. The inside of the ship becomes so alive that we can smell its fetid air, we can hear the coins clank as the men play cards at night, and we can taste the spirits they drink after they shout their usual toast, "To our sweethearts and wives -- may they never meet!"
Further invigorating this true tale are the photographs taken by the team's photographer. Besides being insanely brave and willing to climb the ice-coated masts of the ship to get just the right shot, Frank Hurley brilliantly captured the camaraderie and bravery these men shared during their ill-fated expedition. We see them down in the hull of the ship, listening to records on the gramophone. We see the teams of dogs out on the ice. We see their squalid, freezing ice camps. We catch the glimmers of hope in their eyes (despite their exhaustion) and their obvious trust in their leader, Sir Shackleton (whom they call the Boss), and we know that it is these last two things -- their enduring hope and trust -- that kept all of the men alive during this ordeal.
How do they get off the ice? The story will leave you breathless, so we won't spoil it for you here.
In this age of fantastical music videos, extraterrestrial fantasies, superheroes with bionic powers, and intricate computer games, it's refreshing to hear the story of a real-life adventure and to meet 28 extremely brave people. This team of men, without computers or radios or any sophisticated equipment, survived "the most hostile environment this side of the moon." Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World will both humble and inspire teens who thirst for excitement. Jennifer Armstrong makes history come alive more vibrantly than any virtual-reality game.