Thursday, July 14, 2011
Book Review: The Crossing, by Donna Jo Napoli (Atheneum Books, 2011)
This stunning new picture book, written by Donna Jo Napoli and majestically illustrated by Jim Madsen, tells the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition from the point of view of its youngest participant, baby Jean Baptiste, son of Sacagawea. Strapped onto his mother's back in a cradle board, the baby comments on the various sights and sounds of the expedition. The narrative is written in free verse. Here is an example from the book's opening:
"Rolled in rabbit hide/I am tucked snug/in a cradle pack/in the whipping cold/of new spring./Roar, roar! Grizzlies stand tall in my dreams."
The vibrantly colored two page illustrations effectively capture the grandeur of the American wilderness that is all around the expedition's participants. Jean Baptiste observes eagles, cougars, grizzlies, salmon, elk, birds, and other wildlife that were abundant at the time, as the group makes its way to the Pacific and then back to their home.
An author's note provides some historical context on the journey tiny Jean Baptiste and Sacagawea embarked upon from Fort Mandan, North Dakota to the Pacific and back again. While this book does not give young readers a complete picture of the Lewis and Clark expedition, it would make an excellent class read-aloud or supplement for home schoolers studying Lewis and Clark, allowing students to imagine the journey from an unusual point of view. The illustrations are also wonderfully evocative of another time and place in American history, a time when the frontier was vast and the country ripe for exploration.
For another point of view on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, elementary students might try my favorite book about the expedition, New Found Land by Allan Wolf (Candlewick, 2004), which tells then story from the point of view of 13 different participants, including Lewis' dog, Seaman. Other historical novels worth consideration are The Captain's Dog: My Journey with the Lewis & Clark Tribe, by Roland Smith (Sandpiper, 2008); Kathryn Lasky's The Journal of Augustus Pelletier: The Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804 (My Name is America) (Scholastic, 2000),