Shackleton’s Journey



Shackleton’s Journey

written and illustrated by William Grill

Age: 6+

Interests: exploration, history, survival, antarctica, ships, adventure, travel, maps, geography

Flying Eye Books: 2014

68 pages

This beautiful, large format picture book chronicles William Shackleton’s 1914 expedition to Antarctica. Occurring after the famous ‘Race to the South Pole’, this voyage had the goal of traversing across Antarctica via the pole, from sea to sea. From the preparation, recruiting and outfitting, through the sea voyage to the edge of the pack ice, to the loss of the ship and many trials of the crew as they struggle to survive, this book gives a captivating overview of this, the last of the great Antarctic explorations.

Any child who loves to pore over large, detailed illustrations and maps will find much to love in this book. As Shackleton makes lengthy preparations, we are treated to glimpses of the quirky personalities of the men, details of the equipment and supplies, statistics about their ship the Endurance, and a list of the names of the sixty-nine dogs selected for the voyage. All this busy detail is soon dwarfed by the forbidding landscapes of Antarctica, driving home the isolation and incredible hardship they faced. After the loving description of Endurance, for example, it is heartbreaking to see her crushed by the unyielding ice of the Weddell Sea.

The expedition itself, despite its failure to achieve its goal, is a thrilling story of endurance and survival. Shackleton makes the admirable decision at a critical moment to abandon his dream of crossing the continent and focus entirely on getting his men out alive. This itself is a daunting challenge, and took months and months of effort and hardship to achieve. Fortunately Shackleton seems to have had a keen understanding of psychology and took great care to keep up morale – music and recreational diversions were deemed as important as finding food and keeping warm.

Again and again, the detailed activities of the crew are contrasted with full-spread landscapes effectively dwarfing their efforts. An example is below: after the loss of the Endurance, the men toil to prepare a lifeboat for an open sea voyage, and on the next page we see the lifeboat as a mere speck on the waves.

Miraculously Shackleton brought every single member of his Endurance crew home safely, though the support team – the Ross Sea Party – was not so lucky. A brief account of their troubles is included at the end of the book.

Very effective as an exciting adventure story and a historical lesson, this book invites close and lengthy scrutiny. Of interest to all ages, but particularly to anyone who loves true stories of exploration and survival.

NB. The sixty-nine dogs do not survive the expedition, sadly.



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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.