Race to the Frozen North

By Catherine Johnson

Young Quills reviews

Race to the Frozen NorthChristopher’s review
I read Race to the Frozen North and thoroughly enjoyed it. I liked the characters and thought it had an excellent plot, with a sad and meaningful story behind it; the inequality shown towards black people in the USA in the early 1900s. I thought the most interesting character was Baltimore Jack, the strange toothless man who regularly visited the café where Matthew worked and told stories about his adventures on the high seas. My least favourite character was Matthew’s step-mother Nellie who beat him regularly because everything that went wrong was “always his fault”. The cruelty she showed towards Matthew was horrible and I was glad when Matthew was successful in escaping his old home, despite the fact this meant he had to leave his sisters behind.

From the book I did learn that Matthew was one of the first men to reach the North Pole. I didn’t in the past know it was an American who got there first, let alone a black one. I therefore also learned that Matthew got no recognition for his achievement for fifty years because of the colour of his skin, something which hit hard when I initially read the book and that stood out to me when I read the blurb. I found the time period interesting because I enjoy learning about the great explorers of history and how they pushed through hellish hardships to reach their goals; claiming new lands for their nation or reaching the far ends of the earth.

I found the plot very factual, chronological, and to-the-point instead of light-hearted and exciting but interesting all the same, especially as it was told from the point of view of Matthew himself, not in the third person like most books of this style are. I liked the fact that the first person perspective meant you understood the friendships Matthew developed with the people he met in his life like the Eskimos he went to the pole with.

The thing that stood out for me the most from the book was the fact that Matthew got no recognition for reaching the North Pole first until fifty years after doing so. Reading the book, I felt sorry for Matthew and wished he had been praised sooner after making such a huge achievement. I would definitely recommend the book to a friend because it has a great factual plot told with an excellent perspective that shows the innermost thoughts of Matthew through his entire life and of the harsh treatment he endured before becoming the first man to reach the North Pole.

Imogen’s review
I really enjoyed reading this book, I found it very interesting and informative. I think that two very important messages are included with in this book. The first is about racism and the second is about determination and never giving up. Matthew was a young black boy living just after slavery had been abolished but America still treated black people very badly and with very little respect because of the colour of their skin, from a very young age Matthew endured very bad treatments from his step mother, then when he ran away to New York, he was also treated very badly because he was black. He eventually found one person who would care for him even though he worked very hard for her. Although his life was ok he had to work very hard 3 times as much as a normal man in fact. In between his adventure – on the ships where he had worked harder than ever – he could only get poorly paid jobs, such as parking cars and working in shops. The only people that accepted him where Inuit’s because they also had dark coloured skin. On completing the trek and reaching the North Pole his achievements were not recognised for most of his life. It took America a very long time to except and recognise Matthews’s great achievements and even longer for him to be accepted into the expedition club and be recognised for his extraordinary achievement. The second message in the book is about a man’s true determination to succeed and never giving up. Matthew always dreamed of making a better life for himself and had dreams of going to sea. After being told stories by Baltimore Jack, who adored it. He achieved this and although he had to work extra hard he spent his teenage years working on ships enjoying every moment. Then when he met Captain Perry and his adventures, with them he worked in a shop – a hat shop. And then spent 19 years and attempts to reach the North Pole. He never gave up and never stopped working harder than any man had ever worked. It was true determination and hard work through very difficult and challenging times. Captain Perry also put his trust and faith into Matthew because he to also knew how hard Matthew could and would work.

Tishe’s review
Race to the Frozen North is a story which remembers the famous Matthew Henson – the first man to reach the North Pole successfully – and his lifelong struggles due to the colour of his skin.

The book was very compelling and gripping which encouraged me to read further to find out what was next. It recounts Matthew Henson’s life story and how he went from working for his violent stepmother to making his own life in Washington D.C by himself.

It wasn’t until 30 years after Henson’s death did he finally get the recognition he deserved. This book for me personally hit home because even in school today, I still face the realities of being the minority race. Matthew Henson showed real courage, determination and strength which is why I view him as one of the most powerful role models of the 20th century. He endured so much pain and hardship throughout his lifetime even until the day he died; this book teaches us a lesson that even through the hardest of times, perseverance is the true key to success.

Rating out of ten for the book: 10 out of 10.

Amelie’s review
Personally I enjoyed this book my favourite characters were Matt, Eliza, and Janey because Janey was kind to Matt even though he had coloured skin, the plot was quite exciting but it could have been improved, I didn't learn much from this book but people who know very little about racism would definitely learn lot. I would recommend this book to people slightly younger than me who wanted to know more about the severity of racism and how it affected people in the 19th and 20th century.

Rose’s review
I think the storyline is great and the synopsis describes the book and makes it seem appealing. More detail on where the characters were based and who everyone was would have been useful.

Chapters 1 – 3 were the ones I found most boring as there was no action in the story, although Chapters 5 – 7 was far more interesting and I enjoyed it a lot more than the previous chapters as I had more for imagination when it came to imagine the image in my head. The last few chapters include the expedition to the North Pole, which I really liked.

Although as a history based book, I didn’t find much history based topics within the book. I’m not sure if I’d recommend it although other students that have read the book have different opinions.

Bethan’s review
Race to the Frozen North is based on the true story of Matthew Henson, him being the first man to reach the North Pole. However, through his life he was discriminated against and his achievements were ignored because he was black. This is a story with emotion and adventure embedded in each precious pages just waiting to be read. Matthew was born and raised in America but at the unfortunate time when people were judged massively because of their race, gender, religion and, as described in this magnificent book, colour of skin.

Matthew began as an orphan after both his parents had died, he had never known his mum and had liked to imagine that she was as adventurous as he was. After his step-mum had beaten him for tiny and not important things, Matt ran away to Washington DC. He travelled the world at the young age of 11 and returned to land when he was 14. Not able to find a job, Matt resigned to the streets after vowing to never return to his home again.

This book helped me understand what it was like to be discriminated against, and at some points I experienced emotional outbreaks – crying in sadness, shouting in anger and more. Matthew was the first human to reach the North Pole and he did it for his ex-captain and good friend Captain Childs who had recently passed away. After losing Captain Childs, Matthew joined another crew (Katie Hines under the watchful eye of Officer Peary) and was a cabin boy, this was the crew that took him to the Frozen, yet beautiful, North Pole. Along the long and what seemed like endless journey, Matt learned how to speak fluent Inuit, a foreign language. He also learned how to drive dogs on the ice and know which sections of ice were safe to cross. He learned many other things but these proved the most useful.

Matthew was never given the true appreciation that he deserved and so he didn’t receive a hero’s medal and ceremony, unlike his other members of the crew who received a hero’s medal and a hero’s position/ceremony. Soon after, Matt died as a poor and starving man. But soon after his death, people realised that Matt was telling the truth and so he was buried in a hero’s grave, finally getting the credit that he deserved.

This was a true page-turner and I rate this book 5 stars out of 5. Catherine Johnson is an amazing author and I hope to look for more of her books in the future. It was very exhilarating and I hope that more people will decide to read this book.

Pola’s review
I really enjoyed reading this book because although the book was mainly based on a person and not on the history, I still understood a lot about the racism and discrimination at that time. The plot of the book was really exciting because of all the twists in the storyline and all the different places in which the book took place. What stood out to me the most is that the author described everything so well and with so much detail that I actually felt as if I was there. Out of all the characters I think Janey is the most interesting because if it wasn’t for her then everything could have turned out differently. As well as Janey, I loved the main character, Matthew Henson. I found it intriguing how he started as an orphan and ended up being the first man to reach the North Pole. I would definitely recommend this book to other students aged 8 – 12 as well as to pupils who enjoy reading about travel.

Helen’s review
This book is absolutely outstanding! It is so detailed and you just get lost in everything that takes place within the book. Matthew Henson is a boy who ran from home to find a new life in a new world. He was homeless and an orphan, for no one could properly take care of him. However, Matt slowly started to learn incredible things. He met Baltimore Jack and went after his stories. At this time, Matt was working in a cafe and was earning money from the owner. Matt soon set off to chase his dreams of exploring the world and experiencing a new life. Matt goes on to meet many people, however was still neglected, as this was a huge peak in racism. Matt was ridiculed but soon found Captain Childs. Captain Childs was like no other seen in the book. He was a kind-hearted man and taught Matt so much about the life of sailing and taught Matt so many skills that would become useful later on in his adventure. Matt soon finds a crew that he travels with until the end of the book and achieves incredible things along the way. Eventually, Matt reaches the North Pole and is proud even though still neglected because of his skin colour. The only reason Matt achieved the goal of his is that he was perseverant and determined. Matt faced horrible situations but did everything to come over them and would not stop until he reached what he had worked hard for all these years. Towards the end of the book, Matt sees the changes in society towards black men and feels extremely proud of what he has accomplished. Historically, this book gives many factual parts and makes them link with the fiction of the book. The reason I really enjoyed this book is that it does not seem like a history book. It is a book packed with emotion and adventure!

Mia C’s review
I really liked this book because it really gripped me in right from the start until the very end and the description was good because I felt like I was actually there.

I found Captain Childs a very interesting character because, as well as being a determined sailor, he accepted Matthew Henson – the main character – for who he was and what colour skin he had, because most white people wouldn’t have during this time.

However, I was not that attracted to Matthew’s stepmother: Nellie because of how she treated Matt compared to his sisters and I did not like how she beat him nearly to death for doing barely anything wrong.

This book teaches you quite a lot about the history of the end of the 18th century to the mid-19th century in America. For example: Most white people were very discriminative towards dark-skinned people and didn’t treat or pay them well. I also learnt how important culture was for most people and being part of some sort of family: like when Matthew met Ikwah and they realised that their skin colour was the same shade and felt part of some sort of family.

In this period of history, they didn’t know that much but they were trying to find out new things about the world, like going to the North Pole for the first time and investigating it.

I think that the plot was quite good and gave you a good review of Matthew Henson’s life which was full of ups and downs, especially downs, but this book shows you to not give up and always try your hardest to achieve your goals.

This book was very inspiring especially knowing Matthew started from nothing and had to first make some money and in the circumstances, he was in made me think about how difficult it would have been. Knowing this is a true story is truly remarkable and made me even more inspired.

I would definitely recommend this book to other people because it has a nice storyline that tells a true story from someone who started as a nobody and ending up being honoured for everything they have done and managing to reach the North Pole, all because they were determined. In addition, it teaches you about the past and what the high North is like (the way of living there and conditions). But it is mainly about fighting for what you want to and achieve.

Eva B’s review
I really enjoyed reading this book as it was extremely inspiring and gripping. The most interesting character was in my opinion the main character Matthew Henson because he had a very fascinating view on the world and people in general. I found it amazing how he came from a traumatising childhood, of his step mother beating him and grew up to be such a great person and to achieve so much in life. I did not find Dr Cook a very pleasing character as he lied about reaching the North Pole, insisting that he got there first, his evidence being the fact that he arrived back at America 2 weeks before Matthews’s group. I learnt from this book that people were very much discriminated against for their colour as Matthew did not receive a medal, even though the rest of his group did, because of his colour. I also did not even know about him and the people who did reach the North Pole. It was very interesting that in the early 1900s they were able to get this far even though it took them many tries and it was very dangerous. I never thought that in the 1900s there would be the right equipment to do so. I did not know much about what life was like in the early 1900s. I think it was a very exciting story because the conquest took very long but they also never gave up. Because of this, I kept wanting to read to find out when they would actually make it and if they would get recognition. I would like to know more, especially if anyone else had attempted this beforehand or afterwards. I also wanted to find out what happened to the Inuit men who helped them on their journey. I would recommend this book to others as it gives you an insight on the lives they lead back in the 1900s and is very informative (especially about the North Pole). It gives shows you not to give up as then you will never reach your goals.

Ugne’s review
This review is about a story called Race to the Frozen North. As I read this story, I was amazed by how much cruelty Matthew Henson had to suffer because of his violent stepmother, who behaved aggressively against her stepson! The stepmom was called Nellie, and very much hated Matthew. Also this very woman had cut a stick from the field – black oak. He walked out of his stepmom’s house not long before his 11th birthday. That hideous black oak was harder than a shell and sharper than a lion’s tooth. Matthew Henson has an aim to find a new life in Washington DC, a place in the USA which is a very vast city.

This boy lived for a long time and a very joyful one it was. He may have travelled around the world and spoke different languages. Matthew could drive a team of dogs across the ice or hunt wolves and seals and could make anything out of wood or metal. Once he arrived, he did not receive a hero’s welcome as nobody believed the deeds he had done. But why? Well, because of his skin colour since he was a person of colour and no one liked people of colour. Well, heroes come in all sorts of sizes, shapes and colours but I have no clue why he did not receive any praise when he arrived. When he was 61, he got a better job by the government, and Matthew was a clerk and at least he got to sit down.

Slowly, America began to change. In 1937 the Explorers’ club invited him to join – the first ever coloured member they ever had was Matthew Henson. He still never got the top medal but in 1944 the President of America decided that he should get an exclusive Peary Polar Expedition Medal and he gave it to Matthew himself. On page 115 it clearly says that Matthew and Otah and Segloo, they had been the very first men to reach the North Pole.

I would recommend this book to many people who like adventure books or even to people who do not like reading. Also, if you do not like reading, once you start looking into the sequel, you may find that it is an exciting life that Mr Henson has but he also must tolerate an early life full of royal beatings. Many people may think that his life was not fair but unfortunately at one stage of his life he had to be a boy working for a person called Janey and she worked in a café. If you enjoy this amazing review, then why don’t you read the book Race to the Frozen North?

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