The Snow Baby: The Arctic Childhood of Admiral Robert E. Peary's Daring Daughter
By Katherine Kirkpatrick
Holiday House (2007), $16.95
48 pp; ISBN-10: 0823419738
Review by Amy Brozio-Andrews
With warmth and enthusiasm Katherine Kirkpatrick introduces readers to an ordinary child who had an extraordinary childhood in The Snow Baby: The Arctic Childhood of Admiral Robert E. Peary's Daring Daughter. Famous the world over as the Snow Baby, Marie Ahnighito Peary was born September 12, 1893, the daughter of Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary and his wife Josephine while the family lived in Greenland and Peary worked on his expeditions to be the first to reach the North Pole.
Much of Marie's early years were split between growing up in both Greenland among the Inuit and in the United States with her mother's family in Washington, D.C. Regardless of the distance between Marie and her father in time or space, she was always thinking of him and always proud of his passion for reaching the North Pole (even when she wrote him, "I know you will do what pleases Mother and me and that is to stay with us at home," just like any other kid who doesn't want dad to go to work).
Drawing on numerous primary (Marie's own autobiography as well as books and writings by her parents) and secondary sources, Kirkpatrick writes with an engaging tone, making events that took place more than 100 years ago interesting and accessible to contemporary young readers in the upper elementary and middle school grades. The challenges of late 20th and early 21st century exploring are ever-present in The Snow Baby; Marie spent several months of her early life never having seen the sun; at age seven, Marie and her mother passed an entire winter aboard the ship they sailed upon to Greenland as the ice froze around it, which made Christmas quite interesting; at times, Peary was away from his family for years in his quest to reach the North Pole.
Kirkpatrick doesn't gloss over any of the less pleasant aspects of Marie's childhood. At one point, Marie had fled watching the Inuit slaughter walruses but her father made her come back to the deck of the ship and watch; it was important to him that she realize how integral hunting was to the Inuit. The stress of the long separations on the Pearys' marriage is also briefly touched on, although some parents may find themselves answering questions about infidelity as Kirkpatrick points out that Peary fathered two other children (not publicly acknowledged during his lifetime) with an Inuit woman while he was away from his home.
An incredible array of photographs are included on every page -- from baby pictures of Marie and her family and Inuit friends to icebergs, sled dogs, and even Peary's expeditions to the North Pole. These illustrations go a long way in making real the things it may be hard for kids to imagine -- the way the ship looked encased in the ice and where the family ate or wearing sealskin boots, for example. Plus, the book includes a map of Peary's routes during his 1891-1909 travels.
The Snow Baby concludes with a brief overview of what happened to Marie and her family and friends over the years, a chronology that demonstrates how devoted Marie remained to her father and his work. The book is short, less than 50 pages, but it's got great appeal with it's historical and adventure elements; also, the real-life adventures of a young girl (sliding down a glacier, anyone?) may be especially appreciated by other young girls.
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