Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Marco Polo

Demi. 2008. Marco Polo. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish.

As with other titles by Demi, Marco Polo is as much a joy to look at as it is to read. Marco Polo is of course, the story of the remarkable explorer's journeys - over 33,000 miles and 24 years - particularly remarkable considering the time period and transportation available, 1271-1295AD!
Attacked by bandits in a desert dust storm, robbed by Indian pirates in the Arabian Sea, crossing the 20,000 foot high Pamir Mountains, Demi's telling of Marco Polo's journey reads like the fictional Tales of the Arabian Nights - a fantastic story of wonders and adventures - but of course, it's true. Whenever possible, Demi captures the essence of the time by quoting from The Travels of Marco Polo, the book which he dictated from prison after he fought and was captured in a battle for his beloved Venice in 1298.

"He described wild orange men with tails, or orangutans, and huge "unicorns nearly the size of elephants," or rhinoceroses!"

She does not invent dialogue, choosing rather to tell the story as true to Polo's own narrative as possible.

Each page contains an illustration bordered by replicas of Chinese and Indian embroidery or Italian, Arabian, and Persian designs. The artwork is a colorful and in the flat style evocative of medieval times. Demi uses Chinese inks and glossy, gold overlays in her depictions of Marco's many exploits. Marco Polo is easily identified in each scene by the red feather in his head covering. Important characters or images from each illustration often spill over the border onto the blank space, which is reminiscent of a creamy linen or parchment paper.

This is a lovely book that would make an excellent choice for sharing with youngsters at bedtime, or in a school setting over several sessions. Unfortunately, as with many books of this type, its slim size and many illustrations makes it an unlikely choice for a school assignment. Conversely, its rich detail and language make it an unlikely choice for preschoolers. Teachers assigning books based on the number of pages, might want to take a fresh look at some of the wonderful picture books being written for older readers.

My only complaint is that the map was not placed in the front of the book, giving the reader a preview of the extraordinary journey of this extraordinary man.

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