Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Christopher Columbus: Explorer of the New World

Christopher Columbus: Explorer of the New World

Robin S. Doak
Nonfiction  Series
For ages 12 and up
Compass Point Books, 2005   ISBN: 978-0756508111

Cristoforo Columbo was not born into a seafaring family but it is likely that he grew up dreaming of going to sea and when he was fourteen he went to sea for the first time. From that point on he divided his time between helping out with the family business and going on sailing expeditions. Being interested in the stories that other sailors and travelers told, Columbus knew that many people were eager to find an alternate route to Asia and he decided that he was the man to achieve this goal. The problem was that he needed a powerful protector and financial backer to support his expedition, for Columbus was sure that the best alternate route to get to China and Japan was to sail west. Such a trip was going to require ships, sailors, and supplies, and it was going to be expensive.

After many years of begging, haggling, and bullying, Columbus was finally able to secure the support of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, and on August 3rd, 1492 Columbus sailed from Palos, Spain, with his fleet of three small ships. The ships landed somewhere in the Bahamas on October 12th of that year and Columbus was convinced he had arrived "on an island off the coast of Asia." He went so far as to call the local people "Indians." Unfortunately, though the islands that he explored were very fertile and beautiful, they did not yield up much in the way of gold and jewels. Columbus therefore went back to Spain without much to give his sponsors. Still the King and Queen were pleased with their "Admiral of the Ocean Seas" and heaped many honors on him. He was appointed the Viceroy and Governor of the Indies and when he went back to the islands the following year Columbus was given the task of creating a Spanish settlement.

Unfortunately Columbus proved to be a very poor Governor. He was cruel to the local Indians and even the Spanish settlers came to dislike him because his rule of law was too harsh. All in all the settlement was a failure and Columbus tried to cover up this fact with bluster, over optimism, and outright lies. There was very little gold to be found on the islands, a fact which Columbus refused to admit to his sponsors. In the end, he was taken back to Spain in disgrace for having failed so miserably at the job he was given to do. It was a very painful fall from grace for a man who had risen so far.

This very well written book tells Christopher Columbus? story with great candor and yet at the same time with great care. The author shows her readers that Columbus was a man who had his faults as well as his gifts. Without a doubt he was a man with a vision, and a man with great courage, who pursued his dream with vigor and tenacity. At the same time he used the native peoples he encountered with great cruelty and he was unable to either follow orders or follow through with projects that he was given to manage. Nor did not seem to be the kind of man who could admit that he was wrong when he made a mistake. He was stubborn and exacting, and he made many enemies because of this.