Review: Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill
By Sinead Moriarty
Shackleton’s Journey tells the story of Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 -16 Endurance trans-Antarctic expedition in which the explorer sought to cross the Antarctic continent from the Vahsel Bay in the Weddell sea through the South Pole to the Ross Sea. The text is written and illustrated by British illustrator William Grill. It is this year’s winner of the Kate Greenaway Prize for illustration in children’s books.
It is somewhat unsurprising that Grill’s text was nominated for the Greenaway prize rather than its sister Carnegie Award for two reasons 1) it is filled with beautiful, hand-drawn illustrations that grip the reader and create visual interest in every page, and 2) because the written narrative is conventional and lacks some of the magic which the illustrations exude. The written narrative tells what has now become a familiar story. Shackleton gathers a crew of adventurous sorts and heads south. His ship becomes trapped and is eventually crushed. Through extraordinary leadership and ingenuity Shackleton leads his men on an arduous journey to safety, crossing treacherous Antarctic seas in small boats and traversing the uncharted interior of South Georgia before finally securing the safe return of his crew. There is little interrogation of the modern Shackleton myth that has exploded since the late 1990s. This is particularly evident in the postscript which briefly mentions the three men who did die on the expedition: The expedition’s second ship, the Aurora arrived at the Ross Sea and, not knowing that Shackleton and his crew never even made it to the continent, set about laying depots for the explorers; the ship’s chaplain collapsed and died on the ice while two explorers were killed when they became lost in a blizzard and were never seen again. Grill only briefly mentions the men and ensures that this does not to challenge Shackleton’s heroic status or his claims to have never lost a man under his leadership.
However, it is in the bountiful and beautiful illustrations that this book shines. Through the illustrations Grill examines elements of the expedition often omitted in texts retelling the narrative of the Endurance. He meticulously draws each member of the crew and so we meet each and every man who suffered and struggled to survive the expedition. This is in marked contrast to the other texts about the Endurance, which name only a small number of the crew, such as those involved in the boat journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia. We also meet all of the dogs taken aboard the expedition despite the fact that these animals are often overlooked in order to distract from the fact that the explorers killed and ate their animals when the ship sank. Another key strength of the text and a mark of originality and subversive potential are the landscape drawings of the Antarctic. In these illustrations, many of which are double-page spreads, we see the vast Antarctic, represented in a multitude of ways reflecting the movement and dynamism which is inherent in this landscape. These images also give an insight into experiences of the explorers who found themselves shipwrecked in the middle of a vast frozen ocean, knowing that there would be no rescue. In one image a tiny yellow ship sits in the bottom left corner of an image which is dominated by broken ice and dark blue sea. The insignificant size of the ship is highlighted and the threat posed by the natural environment is patent. There is great depth and intricacy to Grill’s drawings and these images tell a far more complex and interesting story of Shackleton’s journey.
The Roehampton Readers participated in the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenway Children’s Book Awards as a shadowing group. Meeting at the University of Roehampton to discuss the shortlists, their reviews were then posted to the shadowing site itself. Over this summer, we are sharing a selection of the reviews with you as part of the ongoing activity here at NCRCL. The Roehampton Readers group was coordinated by NCRCL PhD student, Kay Waddilove.