Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Shackleton's Journey, by William Grill

I'm going to start this off by demanding more non fiction narratives. Non fiction narratives that are beautifully and whimsically illustrated. Why is this not a thing? I was so pleased to see a non fiction book with such style and character, and I can only hope it's the start of a new trend in children's publishing. (See also My Uncle's Dunkirk and Charlie's War for excellent NF with lovely illustrations)

Firstly, the book itself is a beautiful thing. A sizeable hardback with a lovely cloth spine, illustrated with cracked ice. Everything is white and blue and immediately it's conjuring dramatic seascapes encrusted with ice and frost. That cover too- is it a compass? Is it a circle-of-life type thing? Is it a game? A roulette wheel of chance? It doesn't really matter of course, but look at it! It's pure joy.

The book tells the real-life story of Ernest Shackleton and his brigade of badasses and their successful failure to cross the Antarctic Continent for the first time. Successful because nobody died. A failure because they never actually completed the mission. But mission accomplished or not, the expedition's men carved themselves out a place in history for managing to survive for 8 months on nothing but salvaged rations and their own wits, out in the frozen wasteland of Antarctica 500 miles from civilisation in steadily worsening conditions and with rapidly deteriorating odds. It's a massive testament to the strength of the human spirit, the bonds of friendship and the fraternity of scientific and geographic discovery.

It lists the crew, the cargo, the supplies, the dogs they took, the anatomy of the ship, the skills and experience of everyone on board. The book goes into minute detail about the preparation and financing of the trip, its scientific and exploration objectives and its schedule. It reads like a story, with action and suspense and the overcoming of difficulties and obstacles, solutions and triumphs, but the truth of it is never lessened. The story takes on this extra gravitas because of this.

I absolutely loved the style of Grill's illustration- informal little doodles that convey as much character and individuality to each man and dog as it's possible to get. Just a additional few scribbles and it's easy to tell the cook from the photographer and the carpenters from the navigators. It's brilliant that the other men on the expedition get to have their own moments of recognition and their own characters and unique little props. The dogs too are individually named and depicted. There's a real sense of thoroughness to this book that is just wonderful.

Grill, W. (2014) Shackleton's Journey. London, Flying Eye Books

Just look at the intensity of that weather. It's incredible what can be done with just blue, white and black. The illustrations do such a brilliant, brilliant job of depicting the isolation of the crew during this expedition. The vastness of Antarctica seems so abstract, but the neverending ice floes, the sky and the sea and ice that go on and on forever really help the reader to understand the situation and the location that Shackleton and his crew survived.

Grill, W. (2014) Shackleton's Journey. London, Flying Eye Book
I genuinely feel like I learned something from this book- I definitely have a better understanding of why Shackleton is like the patron saint of triple-hard adventure sorts. His determination and his belief in what he was doing was very inspiring and motivating. The illustrations are just joyous. It makes me happy just looking at them and I've been flicking through the book since I received it, just to revisit some of the best bits. An absolute gem. Loved it.

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