With the publication of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days in 1873, people the world over became fascinated with the feasibility of this impressive feat. Many adventurers have attempted the journey to varying degrees of success. In his full-color graphic novel Around the World, Matt Phelan presents the true stories of three disparate individuals who completed a circumnavigation of the globe by various means: Thomas Stevens, who left his job as a miner to explore the world on the newly invented bicycle; Nellie Bly, who undertook the feat as a challenge, hoping to complete the journey in 74 days, while sending reports to the newspaper where she was employed; and Joshua Slocum, a retired sea captain who became the first person to sail around the world alone. As he explains in the author’s note, Phelan presents each of these adventures as stand-alone stories, exploring both the public journey, what was portrayed to the world, and the private journey, the motivations and personal history behind each of their trips.
Each of the journeys outlined in the book gives a fascinating peek into both the quirky personalities of the highlighted individuals and the social and cultural mores of the late 19th century. While these little-known historical figures may not be the usual fare for students, teachers, and other readers, the book can certainly serve as a starting point for discussions about exploration, individualism, feminism, the 1800s, transportation methods, and more, particularly for ages 9 through 12.
Phelan’s beautiful illustrations elevate the already interesting subject matter to an exquisite work of art. The artwork has a sketched quality, colored with pastel, muted tones that give the impression of a hand-drawn travelogue from the era. He also has an impeccable eye for composition, varying the panels in perspective, size, and orientation. Highlighting this skill are many wordless sequences that keep the stories moving along and convey great emotion. The one flaw in visual presentation is the choice of typefaces for the lettering — a more hand-written look would have added to the sketchbook quality of the novel.
Overall, this graphic novel would make a fine choice for both casual and classroom reading. It should appeal to its target middle grade audience, but will also delight readers of any age with its timeless story of exploration and adventure and its superlative illustration.