• Kim Bogren Owen

Following the Steps of Explorers: Books About Real-Life Adventurers


Much of what we know and understand about our world comes from those who dared to take risks and step outside of what was expected. Explorers have led us to the depth of the oceans, climbed our tallest peaks, taught us about the animals in our world, and opened doors for others to follow. And summer is a great time to follow the example of those who came before us and go on our own adventures. Here are some book recommendations and activities about real-life explorers.

Alice Ramsey's Grand Adventure by Don Brown tells the story of Alice Ramsey's drive across

American in 1909. She was the first women to do so despite few roads made for cars, and she did her car repairs herself along the way. Who says girls can't drive and be mechanics? This book would make the perfect read before your road trip this summer.

Not all explorers go willing, and such is the tale told in Chee-Lin: A Giraffe's Journey by James Rumford. Chee-Lin was captured in Africa in the early 1400s and ended up in China where he was seen as an omen of good fortune. A great book for taking another's perspective and exploring how strange things must have looked, felt, and smelled to Chee-Lin. A good read before a trip to the zoo that includes a discussion of what it took for the animals to get there.

James Banning and Thomas Allen took off from Los Angeles, CA in 1932 in a rundown airplane with hopes of flying all the way across the United States. With a lot of persistence and the help of kind strangers who signed their wings as payment for what they donated to the endeavor, they achieved their goal. Learn more about how achieved their goal in The Hallelujah Flight by Phil Bildner and John Holyfield.

Matthew Henson started life with ambition and a dream to be an explorer, and despite what seemed like insurmountable barriers and several setbacks, he achieved his dream by leading Robert Peary's expedition to the North Pole in 1909. I, Matthew Henson, Polar Explorer by Carole Boston Weatherford and Eric Velasquez shares the story of Matthew's life and his achievements.

John Muir and Stickeen: An Icy Adventure with a No-Good Dog by Julie Dunlap, Marybeth Lorbiecki, and Bills Farnsworth recounts one of John Muir's adventures with the dog who adopted him, Stickeen. I won't spoil the story, but this one contains a lot of suspense. A good read before a walk in the forest.

Sylvia Earle started exploring in her backyard as a very young child, but once she saw the ocean she fell in love and only desired to understand and see it. She became an oceanographer and was one of the first people to walk on the ocean floor at 1250 feet down. Learn more about her life in Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A. Nivola.

Sometimes, our passions develop early and for many explorers, this seems to be true. One such explorer, Jane Goodall, found her love of gorillas with a stuffed one, named Jubilee when she was only a toddler. As a child, Jubilee went everywhere with her, but Jane as also an observer who would spend hours exploring the natural world around her. Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell is a very sweet book, appropriate for the youngest children, tells of Jane's childhood and how her dreams came true. Go outside and pick one thing to observe, such as a leaf, spider's web, or birdfeeder. Go everyday and note how it has changed, and draw pictures or write notes in a journal of your observations.

Tiger of the Snows by Robert Burleigh and Ed Young reveals the story of Tenzing Morgay, the Sherpa, who reached the peak of Mount Everest with Edmund Hillary in 1953. A fascinating read about an amazing person whose impact on the sport of climbing was left unheralded until recently. Talk about the ways Sherpas help climbers and compare it to the ways you help each other get to where you are going.

Not all journey's go as planned (in fact, they rarely do) which is what Ibn Battuta learns after hestarts his pilgrimage to Mecca. A beautiful ode to the impact of travel on the human experience, Travelling Man: The Journey of Ibn Battuta, 1325 to 1354 by James Rumford tells of Ibn Battuta's experiences and adventures during his 29-year journey around Asia. This book features short text on each page with longer explanations interspersed which makes it perfect for reading to older toddlers and preschoolers. Talk about a time things did not go as planned for you and your child, and what you gained in return.

I hope this week's blog inspires you to go on adventures with your children whether those adventures are in books, your neighborhood, or far from home. To help children see that what we say can be written and to follow in the footsteps of many explorers have your child keep an Exploration Journal. Encourage them to draw pictures of what they see and write about it. If they aren't quite old enough to draw realistic images or to write on their own, that is OK. You can take their dictation about both their drawings and about their explorations and observations.

Encourage children to act out these adventures and create imaginary ones by making different modes of transportation out of boxes. Add wheels using round cardboard pieces and brads, use yarn for reins for horses or dogs, and use a roll from a wrapping paper with a piece of cloth for a sail.

Go somewhere where you have never bee, even if it is just a new park, and have your kids draw a map as they go. Talk about how many explorers would not have had maps to get them to where they were going so they would have to create them as they went. Use your map to retell your adventure. Be creative, banks have been known to be dragon lairs; grocery stores harbor hoards of angry trolls; hills are steep mountains with deep crevices; and streams contain giant shark-headed octopi. Give names to your places- Bank of the Sleeping Dragon, Long Mountain, River of the Eight-Legged Shark and add them to your map. This type of play is not only fun and allows you to release your inner child, but it also teaches your child that they can overcome obstacles and confront things that scare them.

As always, I hope you enjoy these books and have fun exploring with your child! You are welcome to use this blog, in whole or part, with credit to Kim Bogren Owen and Words Reflected. Please add your recommendations for additional books about real-life explorers in the comments.

(This blog uses the Amazon affiliate program so when you click on the title and purchase through Amazon, you are supporting us! If you don't purchase through these links, please, be sure to support your independent, local bookstore or find them at your library!)

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