Okay, I am starting with my quibbles first.  “Around the World” is categorized both by our list and by my local public library as a “graphic novel.”  Yet most of the book is based on fact and research.  This left me wondering – is the category labeling a result of the form, or is there some fictionalizing going on that isn’t immediately apparent?

The unifying theme, such as it is, in “Around the World” is the idea of traveling around the world as individuals.  Phelan taps into the craze of the late 1800s and early 1900s to explore the world by whatever means might be available.  On that front, each of the stories seems to fit well:  Thomas Stevens bikes, Nelly Bly travels as a “girl-reporter,” and Joshua Slocum boats alone.

The first two stories delivered pretty much what I anticipated.  Stevens and Bly are both driven by a spirit of adventure and self-promotion to set out on their journeys, and their stories follow the expected trajectory.

Slocum’s tale, on the other hand, is very problematic.  He seems driven by a sense of grief over the death of his first wife, even though he has since remarried.  His story challenges the reader as well.  As an adult, I sometimes had difficulty in figuring out which parts of the tale were flashbacks and which were hallucinations.  I can’t really envision ten- and eleven-year-olds successfully navigating these narrative waters.  (All puns intended.)

Phelan’s illustrations are the highlight of the book.  They work well to convey these stories, and their tone conveys the sepia prints of the era.  I guess I would have preferred either a greater clarity in Slocum’s story or perhaps a choice of a different adventurer.

Cross-posted on Camp Read-A-Lot