Jessica's Reviews > Around the World

Around the World by Matt Phelan
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Jan 12, 12

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bookshelves: children, nonfiction, graphic-novel, middle-grade
Read from January 10 to 11, 2012

Nowadays, it's easy enough to travel halfway around the world, and get to your destination earlier than the time you started (I've done it twice, thanks to time differences). But back in the late 19th century, such travel was reserved for the insanely wealthy, as it took lots of money, and time (months and months). So the stories that Matt Phelan tells in Around the World are quite extraordinary. First, Phelan tells the story of former miner Thomas Stevens, who in 1889 circumnavigated the globe on a bicycle. Not a mountain bike, mind you, but one of the earliest bicycles, the kind with a huge front wheel (this on many unpaved roads--needless to say, his many tumbles are depicted). The second story is Nellie Bly's, who used many mediums, mainly trains and ships, to travel the world in 1889 in a race against time, a then-record-breaking 80 days (she managed it in 74). Phelan concludes with Captain Joshua Slocum, who sailed around the world and became the first to do so on his own in 1895.

It's very interesting to read about these plucky individuals, and what's more fascinating than their stories themselves are the motivations. What would motivate these people to spend months traveling around the world in less than comfortable conditions (Bly only brought one small suitcase on her 80-day journey)? A desire to break out of a staid existence seems to be an overriding theme, with a need to reconcile the death of his first wife for Slocum. I also enjoyed reading about how life was just a little over a hundred years ago. So much has changed, from the names of the cities and countries (Constantinople, Aden) to the way that men and women dressed (I got a kick out of the huge walrus mustaches in the book). Phelan's art even evokes an old-timey feel with his muted colors. Phelan is great at showing subtle emotions, and I felt that he did so effectively in Around the World. However, there were parts that were a little bit boring and slow, and I didn't feel that the stories were as compelling as they could have been.

Ages 9-12
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