The Journey Is The Prize: Captivating History for Teens


Among teens who need non-fiction titles for school assignments, there are students who would rather read anything but a history book.  They open their Social Studies textbooks and cringe at seemingly dry and endless assemblages of names, dates, maps, and charts.  This is the type of reader that I have in mind for Nick Bertozzi’s Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey (2014).

This comics title presents an account of British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s failed quest to walk across Antarctica in 1914-1916.  This bold and resilient leader started out with a ship, a captain, 26 crewmen, 34 dogs, a cat, and a fearless plan.  The expedition encountered brutal elements, constant challenges, and an unforgiving expanse of harsh territory.  Astonishingly, all of Shackleton’s men survived.

To introduce this title to my disinterested teen, I would address its inimitable topic.  This is not your typical exploration story.  Shackleton could not revel in being the first person to complete an Antarctic walk.  He did not bask in a hero’s life of fame and fortune.  Instead, his ‘prize’ was an extraordinary adventure through danger, cold, and wonder at the bitter-cold southern end of the world.  His ship was devoured by ice; he blinked for just a moment after a hungry “widow-maker” wave plunged down; and he rallied his exhausted men over a glacier in the dark.  Shackleton also allowed his crew a banjo, hot cocoa, and a soccer game in the wilderness.

I would also explain that this is not your typical history book.  Wide, friendly charts have conversation balloons, mini-images in panels, and clever labels which make sense of many facts.  Within the book, reality rules; there are images of slip-sliding down a mountain, frostbitten toes, and a fart in the night.  The comics panels are large, small, neat, or chaotic, and always changing.  The faces are plentiful and detailed, but there is room for readers to form their own mental images and think for themselves.  Sharp maps appear when needed.  Best of all, there are juicy ‘sound effects’ and full-blooded remarks, including the eerie “KRRRACK” of ice fields, and Mr. Worsely’s “Oh, the smell!” (p. 105).

Finally, I would provide another book for my teen: Ice Story: Shackleton’s Lost Expedition (Kimmel, 1999).  It includes 44 photos taken by Frank Hurley, the expedition’s photographer.  After my teen reads Bertozzi’s Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey, Hurley’s photos will confirm the exciting history and value of Bertozzi’s comics account.


Bertozzi, N. (2014). Shackleton: Antarctic odyssey. New York, NY: First Second.

Kimmel, E. C. (1999). Ice story: Shackleton’s lost expedition. New York, NY: Clarion.


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