Race to the Frozen North: The Matthew Henson Story

BooksforTopics Reading for Pleasure Recommendations


Book Title: Race to the Frozen North

Author: Catherine Johnson

Illustrator: Katie Hickey

Publisher: Barrington Stoke

Publication Date: September 2018

Most Suitable For: KS2

The topic of polar exploration is a popular one in primary schools with teachers and pupils easily being able to reel off a list of famous arctic explorers: Shackleton, Scott, Cook, Peary. But how often do you hear the name Matthew Henson among the list, the man who travelled with Captain Peary and claimed to be the first to reach the North Pole?


In Race to the Frozen North, best-selling author Catherine Johnson offers a fictionalised retelling of Matthew Henson’s story, including how his achievements were unfairly suppressed for decades because of the colour of his skin. Published in Barrington Stoke’s ‘super-readable’ and dyslexia-friendly style, this is an accessible read for children in lower KS2 or less confident older readers.


Told through a powerful first-person narrative, the story follows Matthew Henson’s life from childhood to old age and emphasises the hardships faced as a black person in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Matthew’s story is incredible and filled with the spirit of adventure, from being a runaway orphan heading to find work in a big city, to landing a job as a cabin boy on a ship, to accompanying Captain Peary on his exciting mission to be the first Americans to discover the North Pole. Despite being the first of the party to reach the North Pole, Henson was given no recognition on return to America and his achievements were largely ignored because of the colour of his skin.



I found this account of an unsung hero truly fascinating and felt deeply moved - and at times, outraged - by the prejudice Henson faced. The story also gives honour to the often under-acknowledged Inuit companions who helped Henson and Peary reach the North Pole. There is plenty of vocabulary to unpack, including the use of the term ‘coloured’ in historical context. This is a wonderful book to use in the classroom for the arctic topic, for Black History Month and also more generally for opening important conversations about racial prejudice and unfair bias in our records of history.




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***BOOK GIVEAWAY!***

We have two copies of Race to the Frozen North to give away to our followers!

To enter, simply follow @booksfortopics on Twitter and retweet the giveaway tweet by midnight Friday 21st Sept 2018 (T&Cs here).


------------------ Race to the Frozen North also features on our Frozen Worlds Booklist.



You can order Race to the Frozen North online or from your local bookshop or library.



Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this book.





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