Head north is usually my mantra but I have a sneaking fascination for Antarctica which is, of course, the polar opposite. So I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see this book. Both Karen Romano Young and Angela Hsieh have been to Antarctica, something that adds authenticity to the book.
On first reading I found the approach and design of the book unusual. It’s narrative non-fiction and reads like a memoir. However, there are the sort of diagrams and inserts that you’d find in a textbook- style piece of non-fiction. It took me a little time to adapt to this but now I think it’s a superb idea! I enjoy reading narrative non-fiction and it’s what I write so I had no problem at all with that element. In my view there’s not enough of it for young people. But sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words and the illustrations of all sorts here add detail and clarity.
The main text is Karen’s account of an expedition to the continent but first of all she gives us some background information, whirling us through millions of years. This is accompanied by maps, diagrams, portraits of significant explorers and annotated drawings. For me, the best way to approach the book was to look at all of the latter before going back and reading the text. This stopped me from being distracted and having to read the same passages over and over again. But that’s a personal choice; others will doubtless take a different tack.
In between the main narrative are occasional features on specific aspects on the work being done in Antarctica. And they’re copiously illustrated in an engaging, colourful style. So, although at first glance this might look like a book that needs to be read from beginning to end, there are actually plenty of sections that the reader can dip into.
What makes this a special book in my view is the very personal tone it has. It feels as though Karen and Angela are communicating directly with me as I read it. Individually they are excellent at what they do and they share their knowledge and experience lightly; the book never feels like it’s lecturing its readers. And together they have created a wonderful experience helping those of us never likely to visit Antarctica to imagine being there.