“Around the World” by Matt Phelan

In 1872, Jules Verne wrote “Around the World in Eighty Days,” the rollicking good novel of Phileas Fogg circling the earth. As the 19th century waned, adventurers were inspired to do likewise.10853145

In the graphic novel, “Around the World” (Candlewick 2010), Matt Phelan tells the story of three such adventurers who take up the quest. If you’ve resisted graphic novels, resist no longer. Phelan’s art is captivating and dramatic without being bombastic.

Thomas Stevens, the first of the three adventurers, is a former miner who sets out in 1884 on a high wheeler—an early bicycle with an immense front wheel. The bicycle was evolving as Stevens took his ride just as a four-wheeler driven by a gasoline engine was being born. Yep, the automobile. So you get some interesting history along with Stevens’ ride, which ended in 1886. This was no eighty day trek. Stevens didn’t use hot air balloons or camels as did Phileas Fogg. How did Stevens cross the oceans? Well, he took a steamship for those bits.

Next comes Nellie Bly, girl reporter, who sets out in 1889, backed by her newspaper, the “New York World”. By steamship, train, horse and carriage, Nellie races against time, gaining publicity along the way. She meets Jules Verne in France, has scheduling set backs, is threatened to be outdone by a surprise competitor, gains more supporters and fame, and circumvents the globe in seventy two days. Nellie becomes a celebrity—the first in the media-driven modern world.

In 1895 retired sea captain, Joshua Slocum, rebuilds a trashed vessel and sets out from Fairhaven, Massachusetts. His wife declines to accompany him, so he sails solo. In his thirty-six foot craft, Slocum navigates by the stars, weathers horrendous storms, a tsunami, hallucinations brought on by tainted food, the horrific conditions around Cape Horn, and finally he anchors back home at Fairhaven after three years on the high seas.

Phelan delves into the depth of his characters with such deft strokes of his pen that you feel his characters’ emotions.

6493836“Reading” these three remarkable journeys is a grand adventure. If you love it the way I do, you might also try Matt Phelan’s “The Storm in the Barn” (Candlewick 2009). If you’re a teacher or the parent of a reluctant reader, consider graphic novels or “sequential art” as a bridge toward reading. To read graphic novels requires concentration and can teach the skill of inference.


At Matt’s website you can see the trailers for the books which shows much more of the art. Check it out.



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3 comments on ““Around the World” by Matt Phelan
  1. Georgia M. Green says:

    I enjoyed your column in this morning’s paper, up until the very last clause of the last sentence. There is no question that reading a graphic novel requires all of the skills and attention that reading a text novel requires, and should not be discouraged, but I weep at the thought that reading professionals still think inference has to be taught! Inference is a natural skill, and toddlers are already excellent at it. THe only reason reading professionals think it has to be taught it because antiquated methods and techniques (like telling children that everything they need to know is “in the text”!) persuade some children to suppress it by the time they get to the 4th grade.

  2. Georgia, thanks so much for commenting. I’m thinking you’ve spent more time thinking about “inference” than have I. Perhaps I should have said, “reading graphic novels gives readers exercising their skills of inference.”

    Please say more about this suppression of the skill of inference.

  3. Kathy Hughes says:

    I always look to your column for new books I haven’t yet discovered. I do agree with the previous poster about inferencing skills developing naturally in most children. However, not all children develop these skills and they can benefit from direct instruction to look for clues and trust their instincts. For example, children on the autism spectrum often miss obvious clues in books which greatly affects their comprehension as well as kids without a lot of exposure to varied literature. So, I do think direct teaching of inferencing skills has a place in school. Thanks Patty for pointing out books that work well for teaching kids in all areas of reading.

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