Race to the Frozen North. The Matthew Henson Story by Catherine Johnson

Catherine Johnson gives voice to the first man to reach the North Pole who has received little recognition for his achievement. As she says in the introduction: ‘Why was he forgotten and ignored for so many years? The reason was the colour of his skin …’.  

At the age of eleven Matthew Henson left a home where he was abused and walked to Washington DC where he found work in a happier environment in Janey’s Café. Inspired by the stories of regular customer Baltimore Jack, Matthew left for Baltimore and joined a ship as a cabin boy. This is the first of many journeys for him to many places and also the life journey on which he learned many skills– how to read and write, how to navigate by the stars, how to treat sailors who were sick and to speak enough Spanish, Russian and Chinese to get by. Following the death of the ship’s captain, Matthew returned to Baltimore and from there joined a ship travelling to the Arctic, setting sail for Greenland in 1890. He made friends with local Inuit and learned from them, including how to speak their language. This was the first of several expeditions he made with Commander Peary, the final one being in 1909 when he and his Inuit companions became the first men to reach the North Pole, just ahead of his Commander. Another man claimed to have reached there before them although his claim was later proved fraudulent.

Matthew Henson narrates his own story here and, while the racism he and Black people in the USA in general faced during his lifetime is made apparent, what comes over clearly are the strong bonds he made with a variety of people who valued his qualities and his friendship.

With illustrations by Katie Hickey.

Barrington Stoke 9781781128404