On February 2, 1925, a man and a team of dogs arrived by sled in the community of Nome, Alaska. Gunnar Kaassen and Balto, the lead dog, became instant heroes for the delivery of a life-saving serum. The children of Nome were battling a disease, diphtheria, and desperately needed the antitoxin. Kaassen and his team drove the last leg, about fifty-five miles, of the serum's journey from Anchorage, Alaska, more than one thousand miles away.
For many years there were people who didn't know that without the efforts of Leonhard Seppala and his lead dog, Togo
, the last leg of the race might have been different. Seppala, Togo and his other dogs left Nom
e to meet another team with the serum coming from Nulato
. They then traveled back toward Nome
to give it to yet another musher and his dogs who gave it to Kaassen's team. Leonhard Seppala with Togo
in the lead traveled a total of 261 miles, the farthest of any musher and their dogs. And they crossed Norton Sound
twice in treacherous conditions.
Often in the chronicling of events, those in the lead seem to garner more attention then those working as hard or harder, but more in the background. After reading The Indestructible Tom Crean: Heroic Explorer of the Antarctic
, an imprint of Penguin Random House
, January 24, 2023) written and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes, you will understand the importance of those with special and specific talents to a group effort. It is their determination and steadfastness that can alter the outcome, sometimes between life and death.
At the turn of the century, Antarctica is the last unexplored continent on Earth.
This time period is known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. In England, the Royal Geographical Society, private investors,
commercial companies, and the Royal Navy support expeditions to the southernmost place in the world.
. . .
Born on the seacoast of western Ireland, in a large farm family, Tom Crean, like other Irishmen, aimed his sights on the sea. At sixteen, he joined the British Royal Navy, working and learning for ten years. Just before the ship Discovery led by Captain Scott left New Zealand for Antarctica, he needed a new member for his crew. Tom Crean was that man. This was the first of three explorations to Antarctica in which Tom participated.
Tom's rank was able seaman. He and others pulled 800-pound sleds through snow and ice to leave a path of supplies for returning adventurers to the base camp at Hut Point. Their ship was frozen in place for two years!
Six years later, Captain Scott called on Tom again for another exploration to Antarctica. This time their goal was not scientific discoveries but to be the first to reach the South Pole. They left on a ship called the Terra Nova with ponies, dogs, and sleds with motors. It was a race against time and Roald Amundsen.
After building a camp, they started to drag supplies along a route toward the pole, going back and forth. Weather delays and food shortages slowed their progress to the South Pole. Men, including Tom, were sent back to camp while Captain Scott and four others made the last 150-mile trip to the pole. At the camp on Cape Evans, winter ended but Scott and the four men did not return. It nearly crushed Tom's spirit when he and the search party found Captain Robert Falcon Scott. He and the four men were no longer alive.
In August 1914, one year later, Tom Crean was aboard the Endurance as a second officer under the command of Captain Ernest Shackleton. Shortly after leaving South Georgia Island, the Endurance was trapped in ice. The men rode out the winter on the ship, but the ice had no mercy. The ship had moved 1,000 miles! The story of the survival of the twenty-eight men (but no dogs) of the Endurance was (is) one of heartbreak and unimaginable fortitude.
The twenty-eight made it to Elephant Island, but no one knew they were there. Twenty-eight became six and six became three. Of those three, one was Tom Crean. He and two others crossed a glacial range for thirty-six hours without stopping to bring help to the other twenty-five. For a few more years after the Endurance, Tom served in the British Royal Navy. Finally back at his beloved home in Ireland, Tom Crean never spoke of his Antarctic excursions.
The meticulous research conducted by author Jennifer Thermes
is evident through the factual edge-of-your-seat episodes she includes in this nonfiction narrative. She sets the stage in the prologue, providing general information about the expeditions and the unrelenting environment of Antarctica.
Her text prior to the Discovery
exploration is conversational, supplying us with the right words and knowledge to build a bit of suspense.
As we are told about Tom Crean's part in each Antarctic trek, readers find themselves fascinated and astonished at the same time. Would you be able to balance for hours on an ice floe with killer whales circling, ready for you to slip? Can you imagine walking alone for thirty-five miles (with no GPS) in Antarctica? When Jennifer Thermes writes about Tom Crean and his time in Antarctica, we are there with him every moment. Here is a passage.
Tom Crean, Bill Lashly, and Lieutenant Teddy Evans must return to base camp as fast as they can, before starvation and exhaustion overtake them. Evans gets sicker by the day with scurvy, which ravages a body in need of vitamin C. Tom and Lashly pull him on the sled. The men are tired. Evans begs to be left behind. Tom and Lashly refuse. Tom will go for help.
The artwork seen on the dust jacket, book case, endpapers, and interior pages were rendered by artist Jennifer Thermes using
watercolor, colored pencil, and salt on Arches hot press paper.
On the right side of the dust jacket, the front, we see Tom Crean with his beloved dog Sally, who accompanied him on the Endurance. The ship is locked in ice under a chilly sky streaked with light. On the other side of the spine is a cool blue canvas. An oval image is framed in the center and slightly more toward the top. It is of Tom and two others hoping to survive the wild seas.
The book case is covered in blue and blue green hues. It looks exactly like ice. This pattern overlaps the far left of the opening endpapers and the far right of the closing endpapers like flaps on a jacket. Opposite this on the opening endpapers is a bulleted list of thirteen Antarctica facts. Prepare to be surprised. On the right side and crossing the gutter is a detailed map of Antarctica and the surrounding waters. The closing endpapers showcase fifteen Animals Of Antarctica with portraits and labels.
With a page turn, we see the Prologue on the left and the title page on the right. Jennifer Thermes has placed pertinent items around the Prologue representing Tom and the expeditions. Most of Tom's face, close to us, is beneath the text on the title page.
Jennifer Thermes uses double-page panoramic scenes, geometric panels grouped on a single page, a blend of vertical and horizontal visuals, and full-page pictures to supply pacing and enhance her text. You pause at each one to study her exquisite details. She leaves no doubt in readers' minds as to what Tom Crean, the other men and other inhabitants are experiencing. (I nearly cried at the tiny, moving image for the words---The ice can break your heart.) Carefully labeled maps are frequently included to give readers a sense of place and the paths the explorers took. (The six small wordless square panels spanning two pages beneath a two-page horizontal map show the events on the trip Tom Crean, Bill Lashly and Lieutenant Teddy Evans took in their struggle to return to the base camp. You find yourself holding your breath more than once.)
One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page picture. The image is filled with the high waves of a rough sea. There are only two small portions toward the top of the pages showing a star-studded sky. An enormous wave is curling from the center of the right side to the top of the page and across the gutter. Tom Crean, Captain Shackleton, and the other four men trying to get help have swooped down from the left side in their twenty-three foot boat to be positioned under the crest of the wave. In their wake is one word--- Whoosh!
This book, The Indestructible Tom Crean: Heroic Explorer of the Antarctic written and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes, is not only an outstanding biographical account, but depicts three thrilling South Pole adventures. Her chilly color palette with warmth shown in some of the skies and in the men and their interior surroundings combined with her informative, perfectly-paced text are certain to have readers turning the pages as fast as they can. At the close of the book is a full-page Afterword along with a Timeline and Select Sources. This title would be a fantastic read aloud. You will want at least one copy on your professional bookshelves and one in your personal collection.
To learn more about Jennifer Thermes and her other work, please access her website by following the link attached to her name. She has accounts on Facebook
, and Twitter
. You can see multiple images from this book at her Instagram
account. At the publisher's website linked above, you can see the opening endpapers and the Prologue