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Pierre Berton
Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1993. 88pp paper, $5.99
ISBN 0-7710-1447-3. (Adventures in Canadian History) (Exploring the Frozen North). CIP

Subject Headings:
Northwest Passage-Discovery and exploration-British-Juvenile literature.
McClure, Robert, Sir, 1807-1873-Journeys-Arctic regions-Juvenile literature.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14

Reviewed by Anne Kelly

Volume 21 Number 6
1993 November

Trapped in the Arctic is an easy-to-read non-fiction account of Robert John McClure's successful search for the Northwest Passage --a good choice for pre-teen and young teenage readers.

The Arctic and the search for the elusive Northwest Passage tempted explorers for many years, luring them from everyday life to face hunger, scurvy, insanity and the bitter cold. The most persistent of these was Robert John McClure, an English naval officer who risked his ship, his crew and himself in the attempt to find the route from the Atlantic to the Pacific. McClure was successful: in 1850 he solved the mystery. But fate, the Arctic and his own negligence almost destroyed him before he could celebrate his victory: McClure remained trapped in arctic ice for two years.

As a lover of historical fiction, I was at first disappointed that Trapped in the Arctic was non-fiction; I felt that the drama and suspense of the story would be lost in a simple retelling of the facts. I quickly realized this was not true. Pierre Berton has written an exciting, easy-to-read, well-researched tale.

Unfortunately, the book does fail to give a clear picture of what day-to-day life on the ship was like. Although Berton has included comments about happenings on the ship, they are brief asides, unexplained and colourless. Berton focuses more on the events of the search, and on McClure's own ambition. The lack of detail about daily life makes it difficult for readers to truly appreciate the hardships the crew suffered because of their captain's dream.

It was also difficult at times to keep track of where the ship was, as the place names used by McClure differed from those used by earlier explorers. The map included helped, but the need to check the map disrupted the flow of the narrative.

In all, however, Trapped in the Arctic is a good book. It brings to life part of Canada's history, and makes it available to young readers.

Anne Kelly is a part-time Masters of Education student at St. Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and a substitute teacher with the Halifax and Dartmouth District School Boards
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