Matthew Hendon and the North Pole Expedition

by Anne Graham Gains
Series: Journey to Freedom #
31 pages, Picture Book
Reviewed by Lily A.

An account of a black member of Peary’s North Pole expedition. Caution: mention of an affair.


We’ve heard about Robert Peary, but maybe we haven’t heard about another man who went with him on that final leg of the expedition, across the ice to the top of the world. That man was Matthew Henson, a black man born in the Carolinas during the American Civil War. This is his story.


The book values courage, perseverance, and social justice. It is not so clear cut on the value of family or religion.

Spiritual Content



The Civil War and slavery in the United States are spoken of briefly. More detail is given to the dangers of the expedition - ice floes coming apart, toes lost to frostbite, painfully cold fingers when gloves had to be removed, falling into freezing water, an attack by a wild animal — although these are not described in an in-depth or scary way.

Drug and Alcohol Content


Sexual Content

The wives of both Robert Peary and Matthew Henson are mentioned. In Henson’s case, the book speaks of both his wives (divorce and remarriage) and, in a note off to the side, of his having a child by an Inuit woman.

Crude or Profane Language or Content



Visually, the book is quite attractive. Its pages use a lot of aged sepia tones, simple maps of the explorers’ journey, and sometimes the edge of a brown leather-bound book is used as a frame for the narration. It is scattered with black-and-white photographs of the real people, color photographs of things brought on the expedition, and copies of old illustrations about the expedition. There is a helpful glossary in the back for words which children might not know, and a timeline of Mr. Henson’s life.

I did not personally find the writing to be riveting, but the author does include some interesting quotes and details, and it may be more fun for someone younger than it was for me. As for caveats, I wonder about the appropriateness of including a handy banner about the hero’s family out of wedlock in a children’s book.

Fun Score: 4
Values Score: 3.5
Written for Age: 5-7

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