Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air, written by Stewart Ross, illustrated by Stephen Biesty,

Even if your don't know Stephen Biesty by name, I am sure you are familiar with the illustration style he made popular back in the 1990s - cross sections.

For his Masters degree, Biesty specialized in historical and architectural cutaways, which I didn't even know was possible! But, his studies paid off and his work exhibits an amazing scope and attention to detail that is mesmerizing for both kids and adults. I am so excited that his first book in three years is here and covering a fascinating subject, exploration!

Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea and Air, written by Stewart Ross, looks at fourteen amazing journeys, starting with Pyhteas the Greek who sailed to the Arctic Circle in 340 BC and ending with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's moon landing in 1969.

Chapter Two, 1003 AD, follows Leif Eriksson and his nautical journey. Explaining how, so long ago, these sailors could find their way to what is now North America, Ross tells us that the Vikings were both "superb seamen and talented boatbuilers," making their trip in knarrs, a trading vessel that was shorter and deeper than their traditional longships. The illustration above shows the rudimentary tool of navigation known as a "sun-shadow board," which helped them to know when they were traveling too far north. As you might be able to see in the two page spread above, each chapter is printed on a pattern that makes the page look like it was taken from a journal made from goods of the time. Some pages look like they are printed on cloth, faded and tattered paper, graph paper and terrain maps, adding to the overall richness of the book. Each chapter is roughly five pages, with illustrations, and a fold-out at the end. The fold-outs contain three illustrations: one that is 1/4 the page, one that is 1/2 and and interior one that takes up the whole page.

Chapter Three, 1271 - 1274, follows Marco Polo and his travels along the Silk Road in Asia. The chapter puts the significance of Polo's travels in context by telling the reader that, for medieval Europeans, "much of Asia and the Far East might as well have been the moon" for all they know about them. Trading since Roman times, Europeans were accustomed to the fine silk (wonderful illustrations show how it is made, from moth to cloth) that found its way in bales across the continent. The details of how goods were traded and the many hands they passed through as they went from Europe to China and back is fascinating.
The illustration above is the first, 1/4 page of the foldout and shows a camel caravan and details the items packed on its back. The map, even farther above, is the 1/2 page illustration that shows the route that Polo and his father and uncle took as well the various goods traded along the way. The full page illustration, which I could not reproduce for you here, shows the inside of a "caravansary," a secure place for caravaners to settle down for the night and tend to their camels. 
The chapter titled, "Above and Below," tells how, in 1932 Auguste Piccard and his son Jacques built a balloon that allowed them to break a record and rise into the stratosphere, some 30 miles above ground, mastering the principles of a pressurized cabin. Based on their scientific and experiential knowledge, Piccard and his son built the Trieste, and prepared to travel to the mysterious Challenger Deep, a gash in the Earth's surface deeper than Mt Everest is high. In 1960, with Jacques Piccard and Lieutenant Don Walsh of the US Navy made the journey 36,000 feet to rest on the bottom of the Challenger Deep. Of these two landmark events, Ross writes, "since that famous January day, no human being has ever again dared to venture into the Challenger Deep. The amazing Piccards are still the only explorers to have traveled, literally, to both the heights and the depths of our world."

Every chapter is well written, suspenseful at times, and always filled with interesting details to rival the amazing illustrations. This has to be the most wonderfully detailed, brilliantly illustrated, non-fiction book that should have a wide appeal that I have seen in a while. Written at a fourth or fifth grade reading level, I wouldn't hesitate to give it to a child who cannot read at that level yet. The illustrations are intriguing enough that I have no doubt you little one will be begging you to read it out loud after one look.

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