You have to be really, really tough -- physically and mentally -- to want to reach the North Pole, especially if you did it the old-fashioned way [by boat, dog sled, and your own two feet], as African-American explorer Matthew Henson did. Matthew Henson had always been a determined, adventurous young man. When he was only 13 years old, he walked forty miles completely on his own to Baltimore in order to get a job. He discovered that he loved sailing, adventure, and travel. When he met a young naval lieutenant named Robert Edwin Peary in 1887, it would change his life. He traveled with Peary to the jungles of Nicaragua, and later they started traveling to the Arctic. Explorers tend to dream big, and Robert Peary was no exception. He wanted to be the first man to reach the North Pole, and he asked Henson to come along and be his assistant. This began years of their working as a team to reach the pole. Peary was lucky to have such a brave and loyal helper. Henson gave up much of his life and his personal safety to accompany Peary on these long, often fruitless expeditions. During one, Henson had gone ahead. He was fairly close to the Pole, but he was on thin ice, and he and his dogs plunged into the icy water. If Henson had not been pulled out by a native Inuit man who had accompanied them, he would have died. Peary never wanted to give up, because he was in competition with another man, Dr. Frederick Cook, to be the first man to reach the true North Pole. Eventually, Peary was declared the winner, but sadly enough, Matthew Henson did not receive much credit or glory at the time for his help in the victory. Happily, some of that has been rectified today. Read more about this fascinating man, Matthew Henson, in Onward: a Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson by Dolores Johnson.
Onward: a Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson by Dolores Johnson. 64 p. National Geographic Society, 2006. Booktalk to intermediate, middle school, even high school.