In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Great Britain and other European nations mounted expeditions to explore the polar regions of the earth, including Antarctica. Men set forth in wooden sailing ships to uncover the mysteries of the southern ice and stand at the South Pole, a feat achieved by Norwegian Roald Amundsen in 1911. 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the launch of Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition, generally accepted as the terminal point of those years of discovery. While the expedition failed to achieve its goal—the first land crossing of Antarctica—Shackleton managed to keep most of his crew alive for a year and a half in the frozen wastelands, despite being besieged by ice that would later destroy his ship, the Endurance.
In Shackleton: Antactic Odyssey, author, Nick Bertozzi, seeks to introduce young readers of the twenty-first century to this historical hero. Bertozzi begins Shackleton’s story by offering a brief history, highlighting key events in the British exploration of Antarctica, including his race to be the first to reach the South Pole and his loss to the Norwegian team. However, Bertozzi’s focus is Ernest Shackleton and his steadfast determination to achieve new polar goals in the wake of Britain’s exploratory defeat. The story opens in England as Shackleton begs for funding from the Crown and the scientific societies of the day, despite the burgeoning threat of war in Europe. Rather than focusing on the fact that England has been beaten to the Pole, Shackleton is convinced he can make his mark in a different way, namely by leading his crew across the frozen continent with sled dogs.
Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey effectively captures the adventurous spirit and determined resolve of Ernest Shackleton and his crew. Individuals stand out from the crowd in both word and image; select crewmen are given distinct personalities and faces, rather than being represented by visual placeholders. Bertozzi uses moments of humor to balance the dramatic tension of the crew’s struggle for survival against the damning ice. It should be noted that this includes brief innuendos that might concern some parents, including a fleeting reference to bestiality. Despite the story’s humor, neither the reader nor the author ever lose awareness of the fact that these men are fighting Mother Nature for their lives, stranded alone in the pack ice with no real hope of rescue, and their only shot of survival lies miles away across shifting ice and frozen terrain.
Bertozzi’s artistic style clearly complements the story’s text. His black-and-white illustrations capture the bleakness of the Antarctic ice in a way that flashier art might not, keeping the focus on the black shapes of men, boats, and dogs that stand out against the barren white. The lack of color also allows some potentially disturbing scenes—such as the amputation of a crewman’s frost-bitten toes and killing the sled dogs for food—to be rendered in a less shocking way than would be possible if the illustrations included other colors.
Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey is an engaging and age-appropriate tribute to a true event. An adventure story well-suited for library collections, the book might also work well as a classroom text or supplemental reading, offering students an accessible introduction to the age of exploration. A discussion guide is available for download from the publisher to support such use and the book’s bibliography offers additional sources for readers who want to learn more about Shackleton and the exploration of the southern continent. Readable, funny, and informative, Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey is an excellent important and often overlooked historical narrative.
Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey
by Nick Bertozzi
First Second, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: 12-18