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Nonfiction Monday: Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill

Shackleton’s Journey
By William Grill

Flying Eye Books (Nobrow)

ISBN: 9781909263109
Grades 3 and Up
In Stores

Find it at:
Schuler Books | Your Library

Some works of nonfiction come off a bit like assignments. The author dutifully studies a topic and relates the subject matter for young readers. Other nonfiction books, like Shackleton’s Journey, feel like mad, passionate, ecstatic labors of love. William Grill takes one of the great true survival stories and sets it to artwork that brings the reality of exploration gone awry to life.

In 1914 Ernest Shackleton and crew set out to do what no one at that point had accomplished – cross the Antarctic continent. They never even got close. Their ship, the Endurance, quickly became trapped (and eventually crushed) by ice, forcing the crew onto the unpredictable floes. Narrow escapes, perilous voyages, and remarkable feats of strength and navigation followed with unbelievable results – not a man was lost.

The colored pencil illustrations are nothing short of masterful. Filling up every inch of the large trim size, Grill combines gorgeous maps, detailed visual inventories, and stunning two page spreads to expand on the text at very turn. This juxtaposition of exploration minutia with the expanses of snow and sea make for a visual experience of the highest order. The reader is in the (snow)shoes of the crew, battling against the forces of nature in utter isolation.

You can’t read this book without thinking about audience. While it would work for younger readers, the sweet spot in my estimation is grades three and up. And I do mean up. Adults interested in survival stories will appreciate this book as much as anyone.

One of the knocks on Shackleton’s Journey is the lack of more detailed bibliography. I agree. In a time where back matter is scrutinized and no quote goes unchecked, this lack of source material is a noticeable omission.

All in all, few books relay the experience of exploration better. Hand this to your fans of adventure and survival stories. It’s a beaut.

Review copy from the publisher.

Also reviewed by Educating Alice.

See more images of Shackleton’s Journey on William Grill’s tumblr.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Another FINE Shackleton story is Shackleton’s Stowaway by Victoria McKernan. It came out in 2008 but should still be available. The story is, if memory serves, more of a YA book. However, it is 2014 now and I still remember the gripping, harrowing tale that does a nice job of conveying the history of this expedition and THE COLD!

  2. Also Jennifer Armstrong’s Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World which won all sorts of awards the year it came out. There also was an amazing exhibit about it at the American Museum of Natural History years ago where they created an awesome room with the James Caird (the small boat Shackleton used) itself featuring huge images of waves on every wall and sound effects.

    This is a gorgeous book and clearly a labor of love. My review of it is here: https://medinger.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/william-grills-shackletons-journey/

  3. Lovely review, thank you. And I agree – this book is absolutely for adults as well! I just bought this book as the whole exploration to Antarctica fascinates me and this book is just absolutely stunning. I want to share it with my own children. I am reading my students Alison Lester’s Sophie Scott Goes South – a wonderful title about going to Antarctica on an icebreaker and it touches on past exploration to the continent. I shared it here: http://thereisabookforthat.com/2014/02/26/nonfiction-picture-book-wednesday-sophie-scott-goes-south/

  4. And, of course, for a different approach, one could also read Adventures of a South Pole Pig by Chris Kurtz. It makes a fine read aloud. I now have several first graders checking this one out and sticking with it all the way to the end! It is a long book for first grade, but very enjoyable.