Hale, Nathan. Major Impossible! A Grand Canyon Tale. Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series. Amulet Books, 2019. 127p. ISBN: 9781419737084. $13.99. OT, H/L, AT ****
John Wesley Powell is most famous for his expedition down the Colorado River navigating the Grand Canyon, and this graphic novel is definitely about that. It’s also about his time as a soldier during the Civil War and his younger years as a naturalist. It connects these parts of his life into one adrenaline-fueled, seat-of-your-pants narrative. Like all the books in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series, it is adventurous and funny and uses primary research to teach history but in an incredibly engaging, fun way. Readers who have some experience with whitewater rafting will be most drawn in by the drama of the river, but even those who do not will find mother nature a formidable antagonist. Plus the dynamics between the members of the expedition provide additional human drama.
This is the ninth book in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series and the second about exploration. Many previous books in the series have centered on military history and other kinds of conflict so it is unsurprising that this one weaves together Powell’s military experience with his work as a naturalist and explorer. The down-side of this is that it makes for a choppier narrative as he shifts back and forth in time. Still, the two parts of Powell’s life are related and Hale is able to move back and forth between them with relative success. He employs clever visual and story-telling devices to help readers figure out what is happening (one narrator is tasked with shouting “flashback” at readers” each time the story moves) which makes fun from confusion and is a teachable moment.
The art is in the same style as previous books – single color semi-detailed drawings. In this case the palette is varying shades of orange appropriate for the Grand Canyon landscape where much of the story happens. White characters are dominant, though there are discussions of prejudice and discrimination that was rampant at the time. Hale also takes pain to remind readers that this was not a “discovery” of the Colorado River where indigenous people had lived for generations. Recommended to comics readers and fans of non-fiction about exploration from middle school through adult.
–Andrea Mullarkey, Berkeley Public Library
Tags: Adventure, Comics, Humor, Nonfiction