As a significant natural landmark the Hudson River is appreciated far beyond the northeast region of the U.S. but comparatively little is known about the man for whom it was named. That is a shame because Henry Hudson's story is quite compelling both for his perseverance as an explorer and his mysterious and untimely end. He's the sort of man that children long weary of Christopher Columbus will find intriguing for many reasons and because of that I was pleased to come across Janice Weaver's recent biography, Hudson. Illustrated with paintings by David Craig (as well as period maps and ephemera), Hudson begins long before the explorer reached what became known as Hudson Bay starting instead with the search for the Northwest Passage and Hudson's dream of being the man who would find it. There is mention of Queen Elizabeth and other explorers as well as the questions surrounding Hudson's early life and even what he really looked like. Weaver is up front about what is known and not about her subject which actually makes the book that much more interesting. There's nothing like a mystery to get any ten or twelve year old excited.
There's plenty of foreshadowing, some hints dropped about difficult and dangerous sailors and then Weaver takes readers along to the fateful day depicted on the book's cover when Hudson's crew mutinied and left him to die in the Canadian Arctic. The story does not end there though as Weaver reveals what became of the mutineers and how Hudson's exploration allowed England to claim the Hudson Bay region which led to the formation of the fur trapping Hudson's Bay Company and ultimately, she writes, Canada itself. He might not have found the passage to India but Hudson's discoveries certainly opened up the New World to settlement and development which makes him certainly as significant as Columbus and to me at least, a lot more fun to read about. (No one knows what happened to him - that alone is worth the price of admission!)
Elementary school readers will appreciate a recent illustrated collection that touches on many familiar names: Tales of Famous Heroes by Peter and Connie Roop. This one is notable more for the interesting combination of historic figures then the standard information provided. The Roops have pulled together everyone from Sacawajea to Nelson Mandela to Neil Armstrong to Billie Jean King (no kidding!) in what is a peek into the contributions of about seventeen individuals who have lived inspiring lives. As always in a collection like this, readers will likely be flummoxed by some of the choices. Paul Revere is paired with Sybil Ludington (huzzah! finally giving this long overlooked patriot some attention) in a fairly traditional American Revolution salute but then we also fine Florence Nightingale, Jane Goodall and Sonia Sotomayor—all mighty impressive figures but sharp deviations from what was set up to be a standard set of American historical figures. (Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglas and Rosa Parks are all here. Oddly enough, Martin Luther King, Jr. is not.) Trying to wrap your head around the reasoning behind the choices is going to drive you crazy (Jonas Salk and Winston Churchill?) and while all are deserving, it is a bit head spinning to find them together. Approach Famous Heroes (which has excellent full color illustrations by Rebecca Zomchek), as an overview of interesting historic figures. It is pretty to look at and diversionary to read and certainly a solid choice for middle grade readers fishing for book report subjects. Just don't look for a system here—just good reads on an international set of famous folks.
By Janice Weaver
Illustrated by David Craig
Tundra Books 2010
Ten Famous Heroes
By Peter & Connie Roop
Illustrated by Rebecca Zomchek
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