Great Illustrated Books

Down the Colorado: John Wesley Powell, the One-Armed Explorer

By Deborah Kogan Ray

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 2007
Pages : 48
Suggested Ages: 8 and Up
ISBN: 9780374318383

In 1841, seven-year-old Wes Powell was taunted, beaten, and stoned by classmates angry at his father, Reverend Powell's, abolitionist sermons. Wes left school and was tutored by a neighbor, a self-taught naturalist who believed in learning through observation and firsthand experience. Unnerved by a wave of anti-abolitionist violence, the Powells left their farm in southern Ohio and moved to the Wisconsin frontier. As a captain in the Union army, Powell lost his right arm at the Battle of Shiloh, but still went on to teach biology in college and lead groups of students on field trips to the Rocky Mountains. In 1869, he and a crew of nine men set out to explore the Colorado River by boat through the Grand Canyon, the first recorded expedition to do so, taking 99 days, traversing 1,000 miles and 500 rapids. Big, full-color paintings on each facing page are by turns pensive and robust, and add additional drama to this picture book biography of an indefatigable man. There's a map and a timeline recapping their journey and a chronology of Powell's life at the back. If you want to get a vicarious look what it’s like to raft at the bottom of the Grand Canyon nowadays, take a look at Philip Greenspun’s essay and color photos at Click on each photo to enlarge it and see the roiling Colorado River rapids.

Reviewed by JF.


Reviewed by : JF.


If you love this book, then try:

Armstrong, Jennifer. Audubon: Painter of Birds in the Wild Frontier. Abrams, 2003. ISBN-10: 0810942380

Brenner, Barbara. On the Frontier with Mr. Audubon. Boyds Mills, 1997. ISBN-13: 978-1563976797

Burleigh, Robert. Into the Woods: John James Audubon Lives His Dream. Atheneum, 2003. ISBN-13: 978-0689830402

Dunlap, Julie, and Marybeth Lorbiecki. John Muir and Stickeen: An Icy Adventure with a No-Good Dog. NorthWord, 2004. ISBN-13: 978-1559719032

Fraser, Mary Ann. In Search of the Grand Canyon: Down the Colorado with John Wesley Powell. Henry Holt, 1995. ISBN-13: 978-0805055436

Lasky, Kathryn. John Muir: America's First Environmentalist. Candlewick, 2006. ISBN-13: 978-0763638849

Maurer, Richard. The Wild Colorado: The True Adventures of Fred Dellenbaugh, Age 17, on the Second Powell Expedition into the Grand Canyon. Crown, 1999. ISBN-13: 978-0439184908

Ray, Deborah Kogan. The Flower Hunter: William Bartram, America's First Naturalist. Farrar, 2004. ISBN-13: 978-0374345891

Schanzer, Rosalyn. How We Crossed the West: The Adventures of Lewis & Clark. National Geographic, 1997. ISBN-13: 978-0792267263

St. George, Judith. So You Want to Be an Explorer? Philomel, 2005. ISBN-13: 978-0399238680

Critics have said

"Stunning . . . An exciting adventure story and an instructive account of the exploration of the West."

"An exciting, page-turning adventure."
School Library Journal

"This picture book biography is packed with information accessible to young researchers."

"With a palette of warm reds and browns, Ray creates slightly soft-focus illustrations that follow Powell from youth to maturity, and capture the scale and rugged beauty of the western landscape."
Kirkus Reviews