CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 19 . . . . May 11, 2007
These titles, part of the 20-volume “In the Footsteps of Explorers” series published by Crabtree, describe the pursuit of major European explorers whose travels changed the course of history. Some of the stories are tales of daring and adventure, but, for those whose lands were conquered, the explorers’ arrival led to permanent change - and the loss of languages and cultures.
Each book is 32 pages long and comprised of 10 two-page chapters, followed by a glossary for bolded words and an index. The history is thoroughly explained and, on the part of the Spanish, Portuguese and French explorers, acknowledges their brutality towards the indigenous peoples, and the resulting enslavement and deaths of millions of people.
The exception is Roald Amundsen: The Conquest of the South Pole. Amundsen, a Norwegian, was a modern-day explorer who led the first expedition to the South Pole in 1911. He subjugated no one directly, but the effect of European contact in the North had negative consequences on the Inuit and other groups of northern people. Amundsen competed with other Arctic explorers, including Robert Scott, Robert Peary and Matthew Henson in the race first to the North Pole and then the South Pole. These expeditions took place in the early days of photography, and the meticulous records Amundsen and the other explorers kept have survived, which makes their voyages of discovery more interesting. Children who want to read about the challenges of polar exploration will be astounded that more people did not die in the bitter and unforgiving conditions shown on these pages.
The books about the early explorers outline what was a period of conquest and colonization. The Portuguese accelerated the African slave trade and Cortes and the Spaniards slaughtered untold Mayans and Aztecs in their search for gold and silver.
The travels of these individuals and the armies of soldiers who came with them expanded the world. People such as Henry the Navigator were visionary risk-takers who defied the lack of knowledge and religious superstition to challenge the unknown oceans. Their suppositions about lands below the Equator or across the sea turned out to be different than what they expected but advanced the science of navigation. Their decisions were based on the potential to exploit other lands and enrich their kingdoms and themselves, based on their presumed supremacy of their white skin and Christianity.
Jacques Cartier: Exploring the St. Lawrence River and Antoine de La Mothe Cadillac: French Settlements at Detroit and Louisiana recall the voyages of the French through North America, the relationships with the Native groups and the establishments of settlements along the river systems.
The riches sought by the French came from the fur trade, the result of which was the development of a new type of occupation - the coureurs de bois, whose canoe trips led to the mapping of waterways. Along with the explorers came the missionaries, whose aim was to convert Native peoples to Catholicism. The work of the missionaries to diminish the Native people's cultures, languages and traditions was an important element of the explorers' goal to assume control of the vast continent. The books discuss the economics and politics of the fur trade and the settlements, the rivalry with the English and the dealings with the government back in Paris. They also describe the ships in which they crossed the oceans, the way people lived and include typical recipes from that time.
The books have timelines and are brightly illustrated. Many of the pages have drawings, photographs or crests as backgrounds, which frequently make the text difficult to see through the design.
This series will prove useful in a class or school library.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.