Levene, Rebecca (illustrated by David Cuzik).
Usborne Publishing Ltd.
This book is aimed at children aged 5-7, and is part of the publisher’s "Famous Lives" series. In 64 pages with large typeface it sets out Cook’s Life. In doing so there are plenty of gaps, many of no consequence. But I was surprised that the story skips most of Cook’s childhood, given the intended readership. On the first page he is aged 8 and on the next aged 18, with no mention of school.
I found several apparent errors in the story, but checking the facts showed my memory to have failed and Levene to be correct. Taking historical advice from the education officer at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, Whitby clearly paid off.
Being described as "a troop of soldiers" might annoy some marines. Describing Charles Green as "a Royal Astronomer" annoyed me, as it appears to make him the "Astronomer Royal", a position he never held, though he had been an assistant to one. I did like the modern description of Joseph Banks, whose "new-found fame had gone to his head, making him act like a rock star" and demanding alterations to the Resolution before he sailed on her. But it was spoilt by saying the "carpenters, who spent so much time adding the extra deck, had to spend months taking it out", when it was only a few weeks.
Levene impressed me with getting Cook’s promotions correct: to Commander and post-captain at the end of the First and Second Voyages, respectively.
Much of the story is told through the conversations with Cook, though not the recorded ones. After leaving Hawaii, Levene writes, "the foremast of the Resolution split. ‘What shall we do?’ Bligh asked James. ‘I’m not sure we’ll be welcome back on Hawaii.’ ‘Well, we can’t keep sailing,’ James replied. ‘We’ll lose the mast before we reach the next island.’ "
I was impressed with much of the description of the events leading to Cook’s death, except when the taking of the "Cutter which lay swamped at the Buoy of the small Bower Anchor", according to Zimmerman’s account becomes "some members of the more unfriendly tribes sneaked on board the Resolution and stole a rowing boat", according to Levene.
Most adult biographies of Cook have few illustrations, and they often disappoint the reader. The same cannot be said for this book, which has one on nearly every page: fresh, bright and a fair representation of the actual events. My favourite is Cook looking through a telescope. I was particularly impressed with the representation of the appearance of Venus observed by Cook at Tahiti.
Levene ends the book: "During James’s lifetime, people rushed to read about his voyages. And almost two centuries after his death, his maps were still being used by sailors, explorers and adventurers."
If you know a young child that is curious about your passion for Cook, this book is an excellent introduction. You could even read it together.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 46, volume 28, number 3 (2005).