I recently read Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi and, for the most part, I did like it. I’m really interested in historical fiction and non-fiction for younger readers right now, and the kind of mushy line between the two categories. This version of Shackleton’s journey was really plot-driven, and it had a lot of one-off bits that were funny, but I think that because it was a graphic novel I was hoping to see more historical detail in the background. It didn’t feel like it really needed to be graphic, which to me means it maybe didn’t capitalize on its medium as much as it could have. And in terms of its graphic depiction of history, it didn’t feel specific to the story it was telling, if that makes sense.
The author himself notes that there’s no way to include everything in the story because it would be an insanely long comic, but little details of the expedition would have made this a much stronger work without detracting from the story. The artist’s style is very sketchy which doesn’t lend itself to that, though. The whole book really does feel like a preliminary sketch of a bigger history told as a play by play. But it’s such a complicated story, and this strategy leads to the book feeling scattered in places. The members of the expedition make reasonable choices based on their observations and chances for survival, but that doesn’t always come across in the comic.
Maybe that’s ok, though, because I’m obviously coming at this backwards. I’ve already read a bunch about this expedition, and so this kids’ book doesn’t add much for me except little moments where I’m intrigued by the way in which a particular episode has been condensed.
My curiosity about books like this is from a sort of instructional standpoint. It’s the same question of, what intellectual work does a children’s Bible do? Does having the basic structure of a story told at a level you can truly master change how you later understand it? I really think it does. This is kind of the idea behind skimming something heavy before you read it as well, except on the scale of a lifetime. We’re asking kids to skim, at age ten, stories that will really have an impact at age eighteen.
In short: I’d really like to write children’s history, but because I’m not capable of doing anything without throwing myself into a pit full of theoretical snakes, and because I’m a terrible procrastinator, I’ve decided to delay all productivity by considering issues like these.