a list of…five fascinating, historical journeys

The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela: Through Three Continents in the Twelfth Century, written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz

This is the story of an incredible, medieval, Jewish man who not only traipsed his way for fourteen years across dangerous, little known worlds, but lived to tell about it. 

The town of Tudela is in northern Spain, and from this town Benjamin set out on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, with a desire to see the lands he knew of from his Hebrew Scriptures.  Traveling by barge, foot, wagon and ship, camel and donkey, Benjamin saw Roman ruins and Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia, met Assassins and Crusaders, witnessed Muslim festivals in Baghdad and pearl fishermen in the Persian Gulf, and was one of the first Europeans to come back with news of a far-off, mysterious land called China.

Uri Shulevitz has recorded Benjamin’s journey in a brilliant, storytelling format full of color and dialogue, narrow escapes and exotic discoveries.  Delightful, appealing, colorful illustrations dominate the pages, which also contain brief historical notes to augment our understanding of the era and cultures in which this journey took place.  Fabulous story!

Marco Polo, written and illustrated by Demi

This is the one journey in today’s blog you’ve assuredly heard about —  Marco Polo’s journey with his father and uncle, beginning in 1271 from Venice, Italy, and returning in 1295.  In his lengthier, fabulous biography of Polo, Russell Freedman writes, “If you were to retrace Marco Polo’s footsteps today, you would have to travel 33,000 miles, through 17 countries and 8 war zones and get 20 visas.”  Certainly the number of war zones has only increased since he wrote that.

Prolific author/illustrator Demi has produced a work of art in this account of Polo’s trek.  With so much information to choose from, Demi has chosen nice little nuggets for a vivid but fairly short version of Polo’s long years journeying, reserving plenty of space to describe his incredible years working for the Kublai Khan. 

Her illustrations are gorgeous, detailed paintings worked in Chinese inks with abundant gold overlays.  In addition, she has used Chinese and Indian embroidery pieces, and intricate Italian, Arabian and Persian silks, to create borders and frames and textiles which exude Eastern beauty and elegance.  The pages have a grasscloth look to them, so that the whole book feels like an antique volume.  A superb golden, decorated map of the entire journey to pore over is included.   Great introduction to Marco Polo.

Traveling Man: The Journey of Ibn Battuta, 1325-1354, written, illustrated, and illuminated by James Rumford

Ibn Battuta was a Muslim man, born in Tangier, Morocco in 1304, who set out on a pilgrimage to Mecca and wound up spending almost half his life traveling around the then-known world, leaving behind a written account of his amazing 75,000 mile journey.

From Morocco he meandered all across North Africa to Egypt, then into Arabia, along the coast of Africa, across the snowy steppes of Asia and through steamy cities of India, to Indonesia and China, finally winding his way back to Morocco 30 years later.  Along the way he encountered sultans and bandits, rhinos and monsoons.  He traveled by camel, by foot, by ship.  He returned with an unheard of wealth of knowledge of the world, its places and peoples.

Rumford’s book is like a present — his words chosen carefully, loaded with juicy, spicy detail and no extra baggage; his watercolors gorgeous images of exotic lands and people amply accented with gleaming gold; his Arabic calligraphy elegant; his graphic design, with its pathway of narration winding through the journal entries, delightful. A helpful map, some direct quotes from ancient Eastern writers, and a glossary round out the well-thought-out ingredients in this beautiful book.

A Giraffe Goes to Paris, by Mary Tavener Holmes and John Harris, illustrated by Jon Cannell

Born in Egypt in 1824, Belle the Giraffe was given as a gift by the pasha of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, to the king of France, Charles X.  At the time, no one in France had ever seen a giraffe.  This made Belle quite a magnificent present!  But, she was not brought by the UPS truck. 

Belle journeyed with her caretaker, Atir, up the Nile, and across the Mediterranean to Marseille, and then commenced a 500-mile walk to Paris.  The journey required special giraffe clothes, a special giraffe Mobile Dairy Farm, special giraffe umbrellas and soldiers.  It took the retinue past beautiful French countryside, past throngs of curious, singing Frenchmen, and directly to the king himself.  It caused an incredible commotion across France, with hairdos and poems, pianos and cookies all fashioned after the new Giraffe Look.

This lighthearted, whimsical account of Belle, her journey, and her life in Paris, is illustrated in mixed media — cheery, charming, colorful watercolors mix with photos of artifacts for a very upbeat presentation.  Great fun!

Once Upon a Full Moon, written and illustrated by Elizabeth Quan

When Elizabeth was a young girl in the 1920s, her family took a long, long journey to visit her grandmother in China.  This is her story of that journey.  All the excitement of getting ready — haircuts, packing, new dresses.  And all the thousands of miles, across the wild landscapes of Canada by train, across the vast ocean by ship, short stopovers in Japan and Hong Kong, then by rickshaw and ferry, steam engine and foot, until finally they arrive at the home where Papa was born.  A small village tucked among rice fields.  An old, old lady dressed in silk robes with tiny bound feet.  And the same moon shining above them that shone into Elizabeth’s bedroom far away in Toronto.

Quan gives us a beautiful, gentle account of this journey, absolutely tingling with detail.  You can taste, hear, smell, feel, see all that she experienced along the way.  Her lovely, vivid watercolor pictures add life and really help us see the many sights of this 1920s world, from the exotic Cantonese Opera players on Canada’s West Coast, to the quiet, green Chinese countryside, Japanese kimonos, and railway trestles crossing rugged mountain gorges.  An exceptional look at an ordinary family on an extraordinary excursion.

Coming tomorrow…the incredible journey of one of the Lost Boys of Southern Sudan in Fiction Favorites.  Don’t miss it!

Here are Amazon links to these books:
The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela: Through Three Continents in the Twelfth Century
Marco Polo
Traveling Man: The Journey of Ibn Battuta 1325-1354
A Giraffe Goes to Paris
Once Upon a Full Moon