An American Library Association Great Graphic Novel for Teens
A New York Public Library Books for the Teenage
Early in the winter of 1634, a young Dutch trader set out from a distant outpost of the tiny Dutch colony on the southern tip of Manhattan Island to explore the Iroquois country, where the powerful Mohawk tribe controlled the most important trade routes in the region. Twenty-three-year-old Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert and his friends traveled deep into what is now New York State, trading tools and weapons for food, shelter, and furs, and seeking to establish new tribal friendships that would strengthen the faltering Dutch trade.
Throughout the journey, Van den Bogaert kept a journal of their adventures, recording their fears, successes, and the terrible hardship of making such a journey in the depths of winter. Here is that journal, nearly four centuries later, in Van den Bogaert's own words.
Using Van den Bogaert's journal entries to support his own research and expressive illustrations, George O'Connor is able to bring this historical document to life, lending a new level of humanity to this long-forgotten episode in American history through the graphic form.
"O'Connor's graphic novel is an example of the kind of work that will engage younger teens and spark interest in a potentially dull and little-known segment of American History. Based on the 1634 journal of Dutch trader Harmen Meynderstz van den Bogaert, this describes his venture into what is now the state of New York. The 23-year-old interacted with Native American tribes, establishing trust in order to acquire wildly popular beaver pelts used in European hat-making. O'Connor incorporates rich browns and blues against a black backdrop in the work's panels that include both interior and exterior scenes. Readers can almost feel the extreme cold and the harsh conditions of the region. The tribes' lifestyles are presented favorably and their customs enhanced by the artwork. Several facial expressions are presented with exaggerated juvenile quirkiness, making the work's interest level as definitely middle-school . . . [T]he book's quality ensures its place in studies of pre-Revolutionary America."—Kirkus Reviews
"More than simply illustrating the account, O'Connor fills it with a new life, expanding on ideas only touched upon, creating action and conflict, casting some welcome humor into the Dutchman's somewhat dry original commentary. While not exactly fast paced, the odyssey is filled with unusual facts of Native American life, like the frequency of bear meat in their diets, the strange practice of curing certain sicknesses by vomiting on the patient, and peculiar combination of both serving and being bemused by foreigners. O'Connor himself seems well versed on the subject, and his pictures conjure an authentic sense of a sparse and demanding landscape as they offer a glimpse into a lost culture."—Jesse Karp, Booklist
"O'Connor handles his duties well in his first graphic-format rendering. His pictures are funny and interesting and keep the flow of the book going. Starna and Gehring's translation is easy to read, while still retaining the work's old-fashioned flavor. A glossary at the back of the book helps with Dutch or Mohawk words that could be confusing, although most questions are answered by the illustrations."—VOYA
"O'Connor takes Bogaert's terse record of the journey and creates not only a literal pictorial rendering of their adventures in graphic novel format but fleshes it out with credible, if speculative, subplots that play out only in the full-color sequential art. Graphic novel format is, admittedly, an unusual choice for reproducing a colonial document, but O'Connor brings it off with panache . . . O'Connor's particular skill lies in taking a snippet of the translated historical journal (e.g., 'We came at one hour into the evening to a cabin one half mile from the first castle. No one was there but women') and, while remaining true to the known course of events, launching a visual back story (e.g., in which Willem gets himself a girlfriend) rife with humor or tension. The 1634 encounter captures a moment in early Indian/white contact when, although disease had insinuated itself into native communities, the two races still met as equals at the pelt bargaining table, confused and skeptical of each other's customs, but knowing a good deal when they saw one. Recommended."—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books