Around the World
by Matt Phelan
Somerville, MA: Candlewick
3 true stories of late-19th century world navigators, presented as a graphic novel.
Phelan opens with reference to Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days, the challenge that many of the late 1800s found exciting and irresistible. Three profiles -- of bicyclist Thomas Stevens, reporter Nellie Bly, and sea captain Joshua Slocum -- show a few ways that the challenge was accepted.
In the days when the high-wheeled bicycle was a newfangled invention, not a commonplace toy, Stevens set out to make it popular among the general public. To draw attention to himself, he rode across the United States... and when that went well, he decided to ride around the world! (He started on a ship.)
Nellie Bly submitted a bold proposal: to circumnavigate the globe in a mere 74 days. As a young woman traveling alone, she was thought to be quite immodest, or at the least unwise. But she was determined to get the story for the New York World as the Girl Stunt Reporter. She sets sail (or, rather, steam) with a change of clothing and just one bag. In this section Phelan spends a lot of time depicting Bly's famous temper and her easy blush... perhaps the reason she's nicknamed Pink? Also, we see many frames of Bly smiling -- smugly, politely, fixedly -- where Stevens usually looked bewildered behind his bushy moustache.
Slocum, unlike the seasick Bly, was a lifelong sailor. His sailing journey around the world was complicated by the shipboard death of his wife, Virginia. This section was hardest for me to follow -- I wasn't sure which parts of the story were flashback, or dreaming, or hallucination. Slocum is definitely visited by a vision of his dead wife, seen in the glow of a natural phenomenon (jellyfish? aurora borealis?), and the ghostly green glow departs from the muted palette of the rest of the novel.
This book celebrates the pluck of three determined souls who inspired everyday people around the world -- as Nellie Bly says, "If you want to do it, you can do it. The question is: do you want to do it?" What an excellent question to pose to readers.