Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales continues with another action packed, true story of John Wesley Powell—a lifelong  master explorer, dedicated to the discovery and documentation of the United States. Hale’s stories, though part of a series, are independent tales of people and stories integral to the story of the United States, from its inception to wars and revolutions, as well as thrilling tales of exploration expeditions that often end in shocking ways. Hale’s nonfiction stories continue to make both well-known and unknown narratives accessible to readers of all ages, helping to keep alive stories of our past that show the tenacity of the men and women who helped move our country forward.

Powell always wanted to know more. Named after John Wesley, the founder of Methodism he was influenced by his abolitionist father, who traveled the lands arguing against slavery. Powell continued his father’s passionate spirit by learning and sharing his love of travel. His family chose to take him out of the local public school after being threatened and beaten quite badly by students whose parents did not agree with his father’s work. He then went on to study with George Crookham, a collector of many things, which only increased Powell’s interest in science and paleontology. As science was his first love, Powell chose not to enter the seminary, much to his father’s chagrin, but to indulge his love of science and the discovery of things unknown to him. After joining the Union Army to fight during the Civil War, he rose up through the ranks, eventually losing half of his right arm, but continuing to fight until the war was over. That’s when his big adventure began.

In 1869, he gathered a group of men together to begin the Colorado River Exploring Expedition. The ten men gathered in four boats to study and explore the Grand Canyon, naming monuments that are still used today. Their journey was a difficult one—they lost their boats, supplies, and eventually men. One chose to leave the expedition and lived with Paiutes in Utah before marrying and raising a family. Three more also chose to leave, but they were never heard from again. Many theories exist as to what happened to them, but death has always been the agreed upon conclusion to their story. The extent of hardship he went through, not just through his life, but this journey alone shows a man of deep conviction, devoted to nature and science and wanting to learn more about the world around him. His journey was considered the first to explore the Grand Canyon at its base, and the information he brought back proved helpful when he went back in 1871 to do it all over again.

The artwork in Hale’s tale is similar to that of other books in his series. Muted, brown sepia colored panels with easy to follow speech bubbles throughout bring a dusty and desert feel to the story. The dialogue never gets in the way of the illustrations and is often utilized in unique and thoughtful ways as to not distract from the panels. The illustrations, especially those of the Grand Canyon journey, are beautifully rendered and incredibly detailed. Hale also provides the watercolor drawings that he did himself of the Grand Canyon to show how the scenery has both changed and stayed the same since Powell’s expeditions. Additionally, the many flashbacks utilized in this story are easily identified and titled so readers get a full sense of Powell’s life beginning with his elementary school days through the war and his expeditions to the Grand Canyon.

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Major Impossible is a great nonfiction comic for readers of all ages. Hale provides a helpful bibliography at the end of the book to encourage others to read more not only about Powell, but of events that were transpiring in the United States at that time. An interesting and transfixing story of a man who risked everything in the pursuit of science and learning more about the world in which he lived.

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Major Impossible
By Nathan Hale
Art by Nathan Hale
ISBN: 9781419737084
Genre: Nonfiction, Adventure
Amulet, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 8+

  • Traci

    | She/Her

    Traci has been a graphic novel selector and collections coordinator for kids and teens in libraries in Arizona and Oregon since 2005. She served as the chair of YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection committee, and served as a member of the Great Graphic Novels for Teens blogging team. She previously coordinated the Oregon Young Adult Network’s Graphic Rave list, OYAN’s yearly list of the best graphic reads for teens. Traci is a member of ALA, YALSA, and GNCRT. And, she achieved her greatest dream ever by serving as a judge for the 2019 Eisner Awards.

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