Was he the world's greatest explorer?
Marco Polo claimed to have seen rocks burn, heard sorcerers sing sharks to sleep, and meet bandits who could conjure sandstorms at will. Marco shook Europe with descriptions of the world he said he'd visited on his epic journey from Italy to the court of Kublai Khan in far-off China.
Or was he the world's biggest liar?
But some questioned whether Marco Polo had ever reached the "Roof of the World" in Central Asia or ridden waves on the Indian Ocean. They claimed he was a fake who saw nothing more than the conjurings of his own inventive mind.
Who was Marco Polo - a heroic explorer or a charlatan? Join Newbery Medalist Russell Freedman as he shares Marco Polo's extraordinary tale with today's readers.
Reviews and Awards
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
Book Links Lasting Connections for 2006
Kirkus Best Book of the Year
Society of Illustrators Original Art Show
New York Public Library "100 Best Books for Reading and Sharing"
Parents' Choice Silver Honor
Booklist Editors' Choices
Junior Library Guild Selection
Golden Kite Award
⋆ "When Russell Freedman won the Newbery Medal for his photobiography of Abraham Lincoln in 1988, he rewarded himself with a trip to China. The many nonfiction books he has written since then are devoted primarily to American subjects, but Freedman continues to be fascinated by Asia. He wrote about Confucius in 2002 and now, with the Russian-born illustrator Bagram Ibatoulline, he has produced a splendid new book, The Adventures of Marco Polo.... This is a thought-provoking book, one that will fascinate readers of all ages." - Stephanie Deutsch, The New York Times Book Review
⋆ "A gloriously designed biography of Marco Polo brings to young readers some of the excitement his Description of the World must have offered to contemporary readers upon its publication at the turn of the 14th century. The graceful text quotes from Polo's account as it describes his travels into a land that, unfortunately, is likely as little known to the average American reader as it was to medieval Europeans. The passages through mountains and deserts receive as vivid a treatment as does the court of Kublai Khan, whose intellectual curiosity and religious tolerance stand as his shining achievements. Freedman admits his readers into the scholarly debate as to the veracity of Polo's account, both by admitting doubt where appropriate into the main narrative and in a more extensive concluding discussion. Ibatoulline exhibits chameleon-like adaptability with his chapter-introducing illustrations, varying style from Western to Eastern to suit the subject. Full-color reproductions of archival material, parchment-toned pages and two perfectly placed maps round out this spectacular offering. A bibliographical essay, detailed notes on the archival illustrations and an index comprise the exemplary backmatter. Simply splendid." - Kirkus Reviews, starred review
⋆ "Freedman here investigates the puzzle posed by the more than 150 extant versions of the 13th century explorer Marco Polo's book, THE DESCRIPTION OF THE WORLD. In his introductory and last chapters (as well as a concluding author's note that lays out where modern scholars stand on Marco Polo), Freedman acknowledges that many, from Polo's day forward, have contested the veracity of Marco's claims, which included a three year governorship of Yangzhou and work as a "trusted envoy" of Kublai Khan. In the fascinating central chapters, Freedman sidelines skepticism: he quotes liberally from Polo's account, retracing the amazing journey to and from lands unfathomable to most Europeans living at the time. Marco, at age 17, with his merchant father and uncle, trekked through the Middle EAst, India and China, sailing over four seas, on a journey that would take nearly 24 years to complete. Ibatoulline's accomplished paintings reflect the artistic conventions of the cultures Marco encountered (his sources are noted) and act as a visual bridge between the events of the text and captioned archival reproductions throughout - many from editions of Marco's book (meticulously credited in endnotes.) Two double-page maps (modern geographically, yet charmingly naive in style) trace Marco's route to and within China, and the seagoing journey home. Creamy pages resemble parchment, and attentive design elements include illustrated boards with gilt inlay. Freedman's impeccable research, historical fidelity and flair for engrossing narrative nonfiction combine with handsome bookmaking for a highly recommended biography." - Publishers Weekly, starred review
⋆ "In an age when critics obsess about the blurred line between fact and fiction, Freedman prepares readers for ambiguity right from the contents page.... Nothing But the Truth... is both the title of his first chapter and a phrase pulled from Polo's book, The Description of the World. Apparently the Venetian's own family doubted the veracity of his version of the 24-year, 6500-mile journey to and sojourn in Kublai Khan's court and begged him to recant on his deathbed. The chapter 'Did Marco Polo Go to China?' presents current scholarship challenging the nobleman's claims, as well as plausible counterarguments. In between, readers find a flavor of the adventurer's early and final years, descriptions of treacherous mountain excursions and raging sandstorms, and details of the splendor and sophistication of Xanadu, where Polo served as envoy to the emperor. The accounts are accompanied by original and archival illustrations and maps; extensive endnotes provide further documentation. Many of the illuminated manuscripts come from various editions of Polo's book; they span several centuries. Ibatoulline's handsome single-page paintings appear at the beginning of each chapter, anchoring the telling, even while the artistic conventions adapt to the culture being depicted. The calligraphic font of the chapter headings and the parchmentlike pages add to the sense of an authentic experience. The author's in-depth narrative style and historian's skepticism require more background knowledge and a longer attention span than Nick McCarty's Marco Polo (National Geographic, 2006), but the effort will be richly rewarded." - School Library Journal, starred review
⋆ "The name Marco Polo evokes images of faraway travels and exotic treasures: silks and spices, gold and jewels. Newbery Medal winner Freedman takes readers along on Polo's journey in a book that is as beautiful as many of the sights the explorer observed. It begins at Polo's deathbed, his family begging him to confess his exaggerations. Even some contemporary scholars don't believe Polo went to China, but many observers think most of his tales were true. Using Polo's own descriptions (as told to a writer he met in prison), Freedman shepherds readers across deserts, down the Silk Road, and over mountains until the adventurer reaches the magnificent kingdom of Kublai Khan. Supporting Freedman's informative yet evocative prose are enchanting illustrations. Ibatoulline follows the historic journey with art inspired by different periods - for instance, he uses illuminated manuscripts as the basis for the European scenes. The original artwork is complemented by many historic illustrations, some from editions of Polo's Description of the World. The meticulous art notes call attention to the lack of text source notes, although Freedman does include an extensive, informative author's note about Polo's claims. With its thick, mottled pages and attractive design, this is a glorious piece of bookmaking; readers will find it a pleasure to explore." - Booklist, starred review
"This handsome volume -- with faux-aged paper, archival prints, original art reminiscent of the Middle Ages, and gold leaf decorating the jacket -- resembles a fourteenth-century manuscript, an appropriate aesthetic for a book about Marco Polo. Freedman sets his focus by posing two questions: "Did he really travel to China and beyond, as he claimed? Or was he, in fact, 'the man of a million lies'?" Freedman provides necessary background by writing of Polo's experiences and using liberal quotes from Polo's own Description of the World." - Horn Book Magazine
Trim Size: 10" x 10"
Page Count: 64
Foreign Rights: Scholastic
Translation Rights: Scholastic
Rights Available? yes