columbus demi

Born in 1451 in the seafaring nation of Genoa in northern Italy, Christopher Columbus grew up watching ships sail into the harbor loaded with riches from Egypt, Spain, England, and Belgium. Columbus was convinced that he could gain gold, silk, ivory, and much personal wealth for himself if he were to sail west from Europe to the East and trade with China and India. When Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon finally provided him with three ships, a crew, and supplies for his journey, Columbus embarked on the first of four voyages to the East in 1492. Although he never reached Asia, he did land in Central and South America, establishing a firm foothold in America and opening up wider European exploration to the new continent and other foreign lands.

Demi portrays Columbus as a great navigator and explorer, but she also provides a balanced view of his accomplishments, describing his enslavement of the native Taino Indians of Central America and his mismanagement of the colonies that he established in the Indies. Using Chinese paintbrushes and inks, gold overlays, and Italian marbled paper from Florence, Italy, she paints Columbus’s vast world with characteristic skill and beauty.---from the publisher

64 pages                                978-0761461678                               Ages 8-12

Keywords:  biography, exploration, Europe, voyages, ships, 15th century, explorer, indigenous people, prejudice, diversity, diverse books, 8 year old, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old

Editor's note: This book would be an interesting perspective to share on Indigenous People's Day- previously known as Columbus Day. Second Monday in October.


Other reviews:

"Columbus’s faults and accomplishments are both presented, acknowledging that his drive to explore furthered Europeans’ knowledge of other lands, but that his mistreatment of Native peoples devastated their lives and culture." ---School Library Journal


“Columbus Sailed the Ocean (‘Pop! Goes the Weasel’) All around the great wide world Columbus sailed the ocean To prove the world was big & round That’s real devotion!” -- Educational holiday song available on a bunch of online websites

“One of the [relief ship] captains was Christopher Columbus’s brother Bartolomeo. Upon arrival, he discovered that the Spaniards were exploiting the Indians. They were stealing from them, had cut off the ears of one man, and had put the Indian chief in chains. Violence spread and Columbus could not stop it. Columbus sent back four ships to Spain with five hundred Taino Indians who were sold as slaves on the European market. And he continued to practice slavery in the Indies. “Every male over the age of fourteen had to pay gold every three months to the shaky government Columbus had set up. The males were forced to work for the Spaniards after giving up their land and belongings. Many began to die of exhaustion and European diseases, including smallpox, measles, and syphilis. Soon hundreds of thousands of Caribbean Indians died, and eventually only a handful survived.”

Thanks to today’s popularity of picture books for older readers, we have a steady flow of short-yet-revealing biographies like this one. Author-illustrator Demi does a terrific job of showing how Christopher Columbus “was one of the greatest navigators who ever lived,” that “his voyages had changed the face of the world forever,” and that he was at the same time a racist tyrant. Certainly many will come away from this book wondering why there is a U.S. national holiday in honor of a mass murderer.

Demi’s story about the life of Columbus makes so much sense. She details his years of extensive sailing experience up and down the European/African side of the Atlantic prior to his first attempting to cross the ocean (“sailing west to reach the East”). It was during these years prior to 1492 that he really came to understand the ocean and figured out that he could ride northeast winds off of the coast of Africa as he headed west and would be able to take advantage of westerly winds if he followed a more northerly route back to Spain.

When it came to seeking out gold and spices, this was one guy who persisted. He kept conning Ferdinand and Isabella into giving him one chance after another. He’d get another bunch of ships in order to go back yet again and seek the riches he believed were there.

“Landing on Venezuela’s Paria Peninsula, he became the first European explorer to set foot on the American mainland since the Vikings five centuries earlier. The land was so beautiful, Columbus was sure he had reached The Garden of Eden.”

That is another thing we learn from this biography: the manner in which Christianity was such a big political deal…just like it is today. You have Ferdinand and Isabella driving all of the Muslims out of Spain and then letting Columbus be Columbus…just as long as he converted all of the so-called heathens to Christianity (and kept seeking those riches).

Demi concludes that Columbus was “a magnificent failure” while, at the same time, she acknowledges his contributions. I find it to be a fair-minded and fascinating look at a guy responsible for so many great department store and car dealer sales every October.

Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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