Monday, September 29, 2014

Have you ever heard of Fridtjof Nansen and his ship Fram?

Don't feel badly, neither had TM, D. or I. That is, we didn't until we read Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome. It is the third book (if you don't count Peter Duck, which is technically the third, but not really part of the sequential story) in the Swallows and Amazons series. While I love the first two books, I had never read this one. I think I may love this book even more than the first two which is not always the case with a series.

As you can guess from the title, this book is set in winter and has the children who comprise the Swallows and Amazons turning from playing pirate and sailor to being arctic explorers. The lake they sail on in the summer has frozen over in a very unusual cold snap and the North Pole begs to be discovered. As an added bonus, the houseboat of an uncle is ice bound and quickly becomes the explorer's headquarters nicknamed the Fram. By about halfway through the book the names Nansen and the Fram have been mentioned more than a few times. The children in the book seem to think he was a pretty cool explorer and we were beginning to wonder who they were imagining themselves to be.

It turns out the Fridtjof Nansen was a Norwegian explorer who went north in 1893 to see if they could reach the pole. They set out for the arctic in the Fram where the ship was eventually stuck in the ice and could go nowhere. A year after their initial departure, Nansen and a companion leave the ship and continue north. They eventually return home three years after they left having reached within four degrees of the pole. They traveled by dog sled, kayak, and on foot and survived on walrus and polar bear. It all sounds terribly exciting (and cold) and having learned about Nansen, we could then understand the children's fascination with him and why they commandeered the houseboat to become the Fram.

We all became so interested and engrossed in the stories that I ordered a copy of Nansen's diary of the journey for the boys to look at. Happily, Farthest North: the Epic Adventure of a Visionary Explorer is still in print. I kept the book a surprise for the boys and the fact that they were very excited by receiving a journal written in the 1890's show how interested in the book they were.

Last night we finished the book and read the last page. It was one of those books that no one wanted to come to an end and you both want to read quickly to see how it ends, yet want to read every word as slowly as possible so the book won't end. You don't want to say good-by to it. TM summed it up by saying as I closed the 350 page book, "The trouble with that book is that it was too short."

If I could have changed anything about reading the book, I would have read it in the dead of winter. I'm not a big fan of winter, yet reading it had me (and the boys) wishing we could go outside and ice skate and build igloos and be arctic explorers. It would have made it just about perfect.

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