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I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer by Carole…
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I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer

by Carole Boston Weatherford, Eric Velasquez (Illustrator)

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Matthew Henson was born to sharecropper parents in 1866. As a young boy, he heard a speech by Frederick Douglass, and was inspired by his words to dream of great accomplishments.

When he was 13, Henson signed on as a cabin boy on a ship, sailing to five continents. When the captain died, however, Henson at first could not find another ship on which he could be treated as an equal. But a chance meeting with naval officer Robert Peary, who was determined to be the first man on the North Pole, changed Henson’s life. Henson joined Peary, and together they made seven trips to the Arctic region. Moreover, as the author reports, “Twice on the polar ice cap, Henson saved Peary’s life.” Then, on April 6, 1909, Peary and Henson finally stood together at the Pole, making history.

Weatherford uses poetic first-person narrative in the voice of Henson to tell us how hard Henson worked to overcome discrimination, prove himself, and earn Peary’s trust. As Weatherford has Henson declare:

“I did not sail to the tropics [with Peary] just to launder shirts and cook meals. I meant to prove myself as an explorer.”

He befriended the Eskimos, and learned their skills for survival on the ice. Between voyages, Henson became a railroad porter and explored the U.S. For their trips to the Arctic, Henson built sledges, trained dog handlers, and enlisted Eskimo guides, and went ahead on his own to guide them north. Peary declared he could not make it to the Pole without Henson. Eventually, six of them made it, “one black, one white, four Eskimos….” A camera took their picture, and they planted the American flag.

Controversy followed however. Other explorers claimed to have beaten them to the Pole. Some dismissed the claims of a black man. Peary himself later downplayed Henson’s role, and Peary and Henson parted ways. But before this happened, Henson published his memoir, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole (1912), which included a foreword and praise by Peary.

In all, Matthew Henson accompanied Robert Peary on voyages and expeditions for a period of nearly 23 years. Henson served as a navigator and craftsman, traded with Inuit and learned their language, and was known as Peary's right-hand man during this time. In 1937 Henson was admitted as a member to the prestigious Explorers Club in New York City, the first African American to be accepted. In 1948 he was made an "honorary member," a distinction for only 20 people annually.

Prolific illustrator Eric Velasquez uses full-bleed spreads made from textured watercolors in soft pastels. The pictures effectively convey the alien sweep of the Arctic terrain as well as Henson’s grit and determination.

Evaluation: This book introduces readers to yet another instance of an accomplished black person who played a major role behind the scenes of the better-known story of white accomplishment. ( )
  nbmars | Feb 10, 2018 |
The writing in this book is different from other biographies. Each page Matthew Henson describes what he did not come to do as a way of letting the reader know what he is doing but more importantly, what he's doing it for. This book also shoes all the adventure he got to experience despite his race because he was so determined. I love that the story doesn't only focus on his struggles to his success but also other things in his life like his love life and helpfulness to others. Matthew Henson accomplished a lot during a time he was not allowed to and that is inspiring to people. I think this book can inspire children and possibly create the desire for adventure. ( )
  imasson | Oct 28, 2016 |
The poetic form of this book and the resistance to prejudice keeps you hooked to continue to read. Although Henson experienced so much adversity in his Artic explorations, he triumphed in the end when he reached the North Pole and made history.

CC: This story could be used for a study during Black History month. ( )
  jeziorskij | Jan 28, 2016 |
Weatherford tells the story of Matthew Henson. He did not let anything get in the way of his dreams. The illustrations show Henson's captivating adventures with detailed coloring and lines. ( )
  kwolinski | Dec 1, 2014 |
Matthew Henson did not let things stop him. He faced racial prejudice and were in positions not for blacks. He went to the North Pole with his friend, Peary, which many had not achieved. Hard work pays off. ( )
  ArielDean | Feb 11, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Carole Boston Weatherfordprimary authorall editionscalculated
Velasquez, EricIllustratormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802796885, Hardcover)

Matthew Henson was not meant to lead an ordinary life. His dreams had sails. 

They took him from the port of Baltimore, around the world, and north to the pole.

No amount of fear, cold, hunger, or injustice could keep him from tasting adventure and exploring the world.  

He learned to survive in the Arctic wilderness, and he stood by Admiral Peary for years on end, all for the sake of his goal. 

And finally, after decades of facing danger and defying the odds, he reached the North Pole and made history. 

At last, Henson had proved himself as an explorer—and as a man. 

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:24 -0400)

Presents the life and accomplishments of the African American explorer who together with Robert Peary completed the first successful expedition to the North Pole in 1909.

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