Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell illustrated by Hannah Horn

"They had become a pack.  Or, an expedition, 
he corrected himself. That was what you call a group of explorers."

"Every human on this earth is an explorer. Exploring is 
nothing more than paying attention, writ large. Attention."

Why did I pick up this book?  The author is a favourite of mine.  The cover looked very appealing.  The Amazon setting sounded intriguing especially since Journey to the River Sea is a book I totally adored  and it is set in the same location.

Four children (two girls and two boys) are travelling in a small plane across the Amazon jungle.  For different reasons the children are going to Manaus in Northern Brazil. They don't know each other.  Fred is excited to be flying but he notices the pilot is struggling :

"The pilot grasped Fred's wrist hard for a single moment, then his head slumped against the dashboard. And the sky, which had second before seemed so reliable, gave way."

With the pilot now dead and the plane a burnt out wreck the four children must now find a way to survive in a jungle that seems to be filled with so many dangers.  Fred, Constantia (Con), Lila and her five year old brother Max really have no idea about how to find food, shelter and water.  Fred has done a little reading about explorers and he is a resourceful boy but really it is just good luck that they stumble on an old unused shelter.  Over the coming days they experiment with things to eat and because it is the jungle they do eventually find bananas and pineapples.  In the shelter they find some flint stones and using Fred's broken watch they manage to make a fire.

It is little Max who seems to observe the world in a different way.  He sees some monkey's gathering honey from a bee hive.

"The monkey's washed their hands in the ants and then they fought the bees."  The children watch the monkeys and then gather the ants and rub them all over their skin.  The smell is like ammonia.  Fred and Con climb the tree and, even though it is utterly terrifying, they gather some honey and in the process find a pouch containing a map.  It is at this point their adventure takes a sharp turn.  Clearly someone has been there.  Fred has already made a raft so now the group know they need to move on, follow the river and the map and find the city of Manaus and perhaps even find the map maker.

I like the way Katherine Rundell gives small but very meaningful insights into the back story and personality of each child.

Fred - "Inside Fred was hunger, hope and wire... Fred's mind was quick with sharp edges. He wanted more from the world than it had yet given."

Con - "She moved stiffly, as if unaccustomed to using her own body. Her clothes seemed to sit on her like a bear trap."

Lila - "She was small and moved on the edge of her muscles, like an animal - a deer or a lemur - as if she heard things other people did not."

Teachers could make good use of the descriptions in The Explorer.

"His shoes were made from what looked like alligator skin, with very thin vines for shoelaces. A jacket sewn nearly from black furs, hung over his shoulders. The buttons were caiman teeth."

It is easy to see Katherine Rundell did quite a lot of research for this book. Apart from an actual trip to the Amazon she includes interesting and at times gruesome details about eating tarantulas, catching fish even piranhas, stripping vines to make rope and the dangers of bullet ants.

There is a link between the title - The Explorer - and finding of the map because the children do find a man.  He won't give his name.  He is an explorer, or at least he seems to be, he is living in the jungle and has the knowledge the children need to survive their journey back to civilisation but the man demands a promise from the children.  He needs them to understand why this environment is precious and why it needs protection from the outside world.

The Explorer would link well with Journey to the River Sea, Hatchet and The Island trilogy by Gordon Korman beginning with Shipwreck.  In this video Katherine Rundell explains the thinking behind her novel and in this one Katherine reads the first chapters of her book.  It is interesting to read this interview with Katherine by Kirkus.

I did enjoy The Explorer but I would like to know a little more about why these four children were travelling alone across Brazil.  Also in the final scenes (can't tell you too much) when Fred becomes the hero I wanted Con and Lila to shine a little more.  My favourite character is Max - he is funny, honest and very grubby.

Rundell’s rich, descriptive prose will transport her young readers to a mesmerising world where they can swim with river dolphins, eat a tarantula and discover a ruined city. The mystery deepens when the discovery of a map suggests they are not the first humans to find this place.  The Guardian

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