In 1841, seven-year-old Wes Powell was taunted, beaten, and stoned by classmates angry at his father, Reverend Powell's, abolitionist sermons. Wes left school and was tutored by a neighbor, a self-taught naturalist who believed in learning through observation and firsthand experience. Unnerved by a wave of anti-abolitionist violence, the Powells left their farm in southern Ohio and moved to the Wisconsin frontier. As a captain in the Union army, Powell lost his right arm at the Battle of Shiloh, but still went on to teach biology in college and lead groups of students on field trips to the Rocky Mountains. In 1869, he and a crew of nine men set out to explore the Colorado River by boat through the Grand Canyon, the first recorded expedition to do so, taking 99 days, traversing 1,000 miles and 500 rapids. Big, full-color paintings on each facing page are by turns pensive and robust, and add additional drama to this picture book biography of an indefatigable man. There's a map and a timeline recapping their journey and a chronology of Powell's life at the back. If you want to get a vicarious look what it’s like to raft at the bottom of the Grand Canyon nowadays, take a look at Philip Greenspun’s essay and color photos at http://photo.net/travel/us/sw/grand-canyon-rafting. Click on each photo to enlarge it and see the roiling Colorado River rapids.
Reviewed by JF.
Themes: ADVENTURE & ADVENTURERS. EXPLORERS. U.S. HISTORY.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 2007
Suggested Ages: 8 and Up