First Man: Reimagining Matthew Henson

Simon Schwartz, trans. from the German by Laura Watkinson. Lerner/Graphic Universe, $14.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-4677-8106-0
Schwartz (The Other Side of the Wall) blends history, legend, and his own fictional interpretations as he traces Robert Peary’s attempt to reach the North Pole, focusing on the condescension, cruelty, and prejudice endured by his African-American associate, Matthew Henson. Two-color panels in icy grays and pale blues shift subtly and gorgeously between time periods as Schwartz follows the race to the pole, the role Henson played in Inuit myth, Peary’s clashes with explorer Frederick Cook, and more, including a horrific sequence in which Peary brings several Inuit to the American Museum of Natural History in chains, most dying soon after. Schwartz openly admits to fictionalizing Henson’s life, but the liberties he takes remain frustrating. Is a poignant moment in which an elderly Henson visits his wife’s grave worth altering the fact that he actually died more than 10 years before her? Is it fair to highlight Peary’s affairs with Inuit women while ignoring Henson’s? (A detailed time line sets the record straight somewhat.) Still, as a work of fiction rooted in injustices suffered by African-Americans and indigenous peoples alike, it’s powerful and almost unbearably sad. Ages 8–12. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/20/2015
Release date: 10/01/2015
Genre: Children's
Library Binding - 160 pages - 978-1-4677-5842-0
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