Review: Around the World by Matt Phelan

around the world

Around the World by Matt Phelan

In this graphic novel, Phelan tells the story of three adventurers at the end of the 19th century who attempt to travel around the world.  There is Thomas Stevens in 1884 who had been working in the mines but then started bicycling.  He first bicycled across the United States, and then attempted to cycle around the world on the difficult-to-ride old-fashioned bicycle with one larger wheel.  The next adventurer is Nellie Bly in 1889, who set herself the task of beating Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days.  The men running the New York World newspaper did not like her idea, but eventually came around to having her attempt it.  Her race became a national obsession and sold many newspapers for them.  Finally, there is the story of Joshua Slocum in 1895.  He restored an old sailing vessel in a time when sailing was becoming outdated.  Then all on his own, he set off to sail around the world, becoming the first person to sail around the world alone.  These three adventurers all have their own reasons for circumnavigating the globe, but they are united in their attempts.  These are all stories of determination, courage and bold ideas.

United under the umbrella of Jules Verne’s novel, these three stories are beautifully connected and yet stand entirely on their own merits as well.  The three intrepid souls are also equally connected and yet uniquely themselves.  Their journeys are made for different reasons and received differently by the public, but they are all powerful stories of independence and resourcefulness.  All three stories show the power of taking charge of one’s life and following your dreams.

Phelan’s art suits each of the stories individually and also has a cohesive whole.  There are subtle changes from one story to the next, the colors shift from blues and greens to oranges and creams and then to deeper blues and grays.  The art style stays much the same but beyond the colors there are changes in mood that are amazingly deep yet subtly done.  Stevens’ story of bicycling has a merry joei de vive to it.  Bly’s adventure is filled with energy and zip.  Then there is the lonely sailing tale that has a deep grief embedded in it that almost aches.

Beautifully done, this is one of the top graphic novels for children, period.  It is honest, emotional, and a rousing adventure-filled read.  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

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