Merriweather Lewis and William Clark set off from Saint Louis in 1804, looking for a water route west to the Pacific Ocean. Along the way they had to battle rapids, avoid entanglements with the British and the French and various Native American tribes, climb mountains they hadn’t expected, maintain troop morale, and face their own inner demons. And they did it, getting there and back in two years.
Lewis & Clark
Ages 12+; Grades 7-Adult
First Second, February 2011, ISBN 978-1-59643-450-9
144 pages, $16.99
Bertozzi’s note at the beginning of Lewis & Clark sums up his work nicely: “This version of Lewis and Clark’s Voyage of Discovery is in no way intended to be a replacement for the many scholarly recountings of the journey. But it is my hope that something else of equal value is communicated here: the experience of that remarkable expedition.” This is not a rote retelling of the Voyage of Discovery, which is both good and bad. Readers who do not know anything about the Voyage might be frustrated at the lack of character information, maps, historical notes, etc. These would have been nice additions to help readers better understand Bertozzi’s characters. However, by avoiding adding such elements, Bertozzi does exactly what he said he was aiming for–he gives readers a sense of being there. You feel the cold, the frustration, the tediousness, the danger and you also feel the wonder, the adventure, the joy, and the excitement, while avoiding the whiff of “educational.”
Instead of giving us historical giants to admire, Bertozzi crafts real characters, complete with both strengths and weaknesses. Lewis’ crippling depression is a constant, literal companion. Clark’s slave York is an obviously intelligent and resourceful man frustrated by being forced to be less than he truly is, but proud enough to want to change things on his own terms. Sacagawea is equally smart and her quiet defiance of her abusive husband is encouraged by both Lewis and Clark. We’re also given a glimpse of life in several of the Native American tribes with whom the voyage interacted and the people there are shown in as many dimensions as the Americans and Europeans.
Using a bold, black-and-white, pen-and-ink style and a larger page size allows Bertozzi to add plenty of details to his panels. Lewis & Clark takes on almost a slice-of-life storytelling style as Bertozzi focuses on what life was like on the Voyage of Discovery. There is humor and sadness and frustration and all the other things that make the trip feel real, like it’s happening right now. Small elements like treating blisters or mending shoes are given as much weight as the voyage’s first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains. Readers who already know about the journey will enjoy the immediacy of Bertozzi’s tale. Readers who are less familiar with it will soon be clamoring for more information. Pair this one with Chris Schweizer’s Crogan Adventures series for more historical action appropriate for middle school and up.
This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © First Second.