Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Across The Ocean Blue

 The experience of reading The Perfect Storm:  A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger is forever etched in my mind.  Junger had constructed the truth so well, I was compelled to consume every written word as quickly as possible, as if I were reading the latest adventure thriller.  The same can be said of historical fiction.

When a reader feels a part of the place, time and people through the careful combination of known facts within the narrative, the author has truly brought the past into the present.  Documentation exists regarding Nicholas Young, the smallest member of the crew sailing aboard the Endeavour with British explorer James Cook on his first voyage.  Author Michael J. Rosen has written Sailing the Unknown: Around the World with Captain Cook (Creative Editions), with illustrations by Italian artist Maria Cristina Pritelli, so readers can relive the journey through the eyes of one who was there.

19 August 1768, Plymouth
Once there's a fair Wind,
Endeavour will leave England for a Continent
None has mapped---None knows exists.
She will not return soon---if She returns.

If Someone finds this Journal
my Name was Nicholas Young,
11 Years of Age.

An apt description of the crew numbers, their positions and their quarters follows.  Beginning with the day they set sail Young documents events, moods, opinions, and weather with descriptions using each of his five senses.  We readers hear, see, smell, taste and touch as he does.

When the crew is seasick we feel queasy.  We pause in our reading to listen intently for the scuttling of rats and cockroaches.  As first-time sailors are dunked three times into the ocean by rope for crossing the Equator, it's hard not to hold your breath, sputtering and shaking your head when air replaces water.

Sometimes Young will write an entry within a few days of the previous one.  Other times a month or more will pass before we are privy to life aboard the Endeavour again.  Geographical locations reached  are added to certain daily notations; Canary Islands, The Equator, Rio de Janeiro, Tahiti, New Zealand. 

Amiable interactions with the Tahitians are duly noted especially the addition of Tupia and his servant Tayeto to the crew when they leave.  He speaks in detail of the less than cordial welcome with the Maori and native Australians.  Discord among the crew, disease, nearly sinking on the Great Barrier Reef, and more sickness, the sight of strange plants and animals are painstakingly recorded before home, England, is sighted.

Michael J. Rosen's skill as an author is to convey much with a few chosen words; each ideal for depicting a moment, a memory, a characteristic, a scene and the importance of each.  Rosen constructs the day's recollections using the the language and writing style of that particular time period given the education of the writer.  As we read these journal entries of Nicholas Young, each painting a clearer, more complete picture of life aboard the Endeavour, we become the shadow of Nicholas Young.  Here is a single sample.

Day 151
Howling Squalls and Snow---Endeavor is a Bottle
tossing on angry Swells. We rope down Everything---
Thrice Captain cannot steer Her through the Straits.

According to a short biographical sketch, illustrator Maria Cristina Pritelli prefers hand working using a mixed airbrush with acrylics technique to create her pictures.  In this title the effect is a stunning portrayal of life at sea, and of lands, flora, fauna and people discovered.  The jacket flap opens to complete the front visual sans text with Nicholas Young perched upon a mast.  The cover and endpapers are in tones of brown with a smooth matte finish replicating that of a journal.

Following the introductory foreword the title pages are a map of this first voyage seagulls flying as Young walks across the page carrying a trunk with a portrait of Cook placed in left bottom corner.  Alternating between single framed pages with text opposite (small drawings enhancing the narrative) and double-page spreads with a liberal use of various shades of blue, readers are at sea with the Endeavour crew.   The tiniest of details add to the depth of our understanding and an appreciation for those 1,056 days spent away from home and those 40,000 miles traveled.  Perhaps my favorite illustration is of their third Christmas celebrated without friends or family, sadly death has visited them again.. We see Endeavour in full sail small through the clouds upon the water as if we are birds looking down.

Sailing the Unknown:  Around the World with Captain Cook written by Michael J. Rosen, with illustrations by Maria Cristina Pritelli, is an engaging, lively recreation of the years spent with James Cook aboard the Endeavour through the voice of Nicholas Young.  I highly recommend this title as an excellent example of historical fiction and as an incentive for further research about this particular voyage.  If the study of European Explorers is a part of your State curriculum, as it is in Michigan, this book should be at the top of your list.

Links embedded in the names of the author and illustrator will take you to their websites.  There is a two page resource and activity guide linked here.  This link will take you to the publisher's website so you can see inside the book.  Here is a link to a simple Annotary I created about Captain James Cook.


  1. Dear Xena's Mom,

    This is Chant, MJR's new Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog. (No, Home didn't rescue me because he fell in love with that "Unknown Continent" Australia during his research for the Endeavor voyages.)

    Just wanted to say that I watched Home read your blog here this morning. Ever since this book came out, he's been, as the proverb goes, happy as a dog with two tails. So this morning, he kept saying (to me...like I'm much of a reader?) how he's so humbled and honored that you took such care and time to climb aboard this voyage. So now, instead of heading out for our hour walk in the newly crunchy snow this morning, he's calling friends, posting things on Facebook, shooting your link to his publishing buddies—thanks a lot! So let me tell you more about me. I was—

    Hello, Margie Culver. That's what I get for rescuing a driven, intelligent cattle dog who has nothing better to do than sit here and type. (True, I do not have cows or sheep or anything other than my constant companionship with which to occupy her time.) So sorry for Chant's little intrusion.

    But I would be remiss, even if it's not "appropriate" to be extending thanks for such attention (who wrote these rules?), if I didn't tell you how impressed I am with your investment in my version of this voyage. Your response is the sort of gift a writer—at least this writer—can't imagine, can't even think is possible, while envisioning and writing such a book. Indeed, much of the time I wondered if these short entries could ever convey the magnitude of the voyage, the unfathomable and incomprehensible discoveries of this ship. The time period, the awe as well as the horror of such travels. Your writing here makes me feel that all the worries, all the concessions, all that I couldn't include, all that I had hoped might be conveyed in this compressed, fragmented journal of poetry in six-beat lines—well, that the story telling, just like the Endeavor's thousand-plus tumultuous days at seas, finally made it home.

    All good wishes to you, Xena, and all your readers, Michael J. Rosen

    1. Dear Mr. Rosen:
      I am deeply honored (actually floating on air would be a better description) by Chant and you for taking the time to comment on my review. I've read Sailing The Unknown several times. It conveys better than any other reading; especially history textbooks how this voyage was for the crew. You've captured the essence.
      Best wishes to you and your canine companion, too
      Margie Culver

  2. Margie - Thanks for joining in on the challenge and for posting this great review.

    1. You're welcome, Alyson. Thanks for hosting this challenge which will keep me on my toes looking for wonderful nonfiction titles. It's going to be lots of fun.