This is craft, this book.
It’s hard to know where to begin with Grill’s masterpiece; whether to talk about the palette of clear and clean colours, or his use of space on the page and that conscious decision to let the visuals work for his story to their utmost, or the vivid little marks of humanity dotted in each scene – the men dotted across the white expanse of the page, or huddled together for warmth under the curve of a broken up boat held together by oil paints.
Perhaps it’s best to start with the facts: Shackleton’s Journey details one of the expeditions of Ernest Shackleton to the Arctic. Grill’s love and knowledge of his topic shines in his awareness of the detail and the human nuances he gives every illustration. The crew of the expedition range one page, looking out at us, with captions ranging from Able Seaman through to Stowaway. (A quick sidebar: more stories on stowaways please, I am intrigued so much by them).
Grill follows this journey from start to end and details every step of it with such graceful and poetic illustrations, that this book starts to ache with perfection. I hope that Shackleton’s Journey endures for a long while and becomes considered as a classic alongside some of the great canonical titles of children’s literature. It’s already stating its case for classic status with ease; spreads of the ice-floe breaking up swallow the page with their magnitude, dwarfing the expedition with their immense, jaw-dropping scale, whilst other spreads speak of a warmth and humour that pays tribute to the bravery of these men. This in particular is a vital touch. (Google: Frank Hurley and Endurance to see some of the photographs from the expedition – they’re almost unreal).
Shackleton’s Journey is perfect, really, and it is one of those books that feels a little bit like a landmark point for the sector. I am in love.