Sunday, May 1, 2011

Into the Unknown, by Stewart Ross and Stephen Biesty (ages 9 - 14)

As a child, I was fascinated by how early explorers sailed the oceans to new lands, pushing the limits of their knowledge. I remember learning about how Magellan's fleet circumnavigated to world - it was just captivating to learn about, and yet seemed so hard to imagine. Oh, if I only had been able to read Into the Unknown by Stewart Ross and Stephen Biesty - still, as an adult, I've poured over this book for hours and hours. If your child is fascinated by history, travel, exploration, maps or engineering, definitely seek this book out.
Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and AirInto the Unknown
How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea and Air
by Stewart Ross
illustrated by Stephen Biesty
MA: Candlewick Press, 2011
ages 9 - 14
available on Amazon and at your local library
With clear, dramatic storytelling, Stewart Ross follows fourteen great explorers as they set out to discover the unknown. Starting with Pytheas the Greek, who sailed to the Arctic Circle in 340 B.C. and ending in 1969 when the crew of the Apollo 11 landed on the moon, Ross examines where, why and how these brave adventurers traveled. Ross provides just enough information to help construct a clear understanding for young readers without overwhelming them with too much detail.

Stephen Biesty's illustrations are a marvel, drawing readers to this book before they even start reading it. Using unfolding maps, cutaways and cross sections, Biesty brings these adventures to life in the reader's imagination. They let us see what it might have been like to sail on rough curragh with Pytheas as he sailed the North Sea. Some illustrations focus on the techniques used to construct certain ships, while others detail the routes taken. Many illustrations are fold-outs that fit nicely into the book, smaller than the full pages so they close up neatly. This volume will be a bit of a challenge in the school library with its many fold-outs. Even the dust jacket folds out to reveal a full map show casing all fourteen voyages!

Ross and Biesty take readers on fourteen famous voyages, arranged chronologically in order. While there is certainly a Euro-centric slant to the choices, they do provide a very interesting range, including Leif Eriksson's journey to America in AD 1003, Admiral Zheng He crossing the Indian Ocean with his enormous Treasure Fleet in 1405, and Jacques Piccard diving deep within the Mariana Trench to the Challenger Deep in 1960. This book will make fascinating reading for many children, piquing their interests to learn more about a favorite adventurer. It has enough information to be used in reports, but is written in a dramatic way to pull readers along who just want to know what happened next!

Stephen Biesty is a truly amazing illustrator. As he writes on his website:
"I create illustrations that are unrivalled for their ambitious scope and attention to detail. They are unique hand-drawn dissections individually designed to reveal and explain the structure of the subject, and show how people lived inside it. My aim is to imagine the unimaginable and give the viewer exciting new images of familiar things."
- Stephen Biesty's Artist Statement
He provides many examples of his work on his website, including many from this book. Look especially at Gallery 6, Atmospheric Cutaways, where you'll find this illustration of Magellan's Carrack, among other things. Biesty is best known for his Incredible Cross-Sections, which is now out of print. But a recent book that I've been wanting to explore is Egypt: in Spectacular Cross-Section, by the same team of Ross and Biesty.

Into the Unknown will receive a starred review in the May/June edition of the Horn Book Magazine. I'm looking forward to reading other reviews as they come in. This is truly a remarkable book.

For many other nonfiction resources to share with your children, check out Nonfiction Monday. It's a weekly event hosted around the Kidlitosphere and is a great place to discover wonderful books for children. Today it's hosted by Jennifer at The Jean Little Library.

The review copy was kindly sent by Candlewick Press.  If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

1 comment:

  1. I think my son and me would enjoy this book. Thanks for the suggestion.