Logo Title Quebec Reading Connection

First Man: Reimagining Matthew Henson

Schwartz, Simon (Author/Illustrator)
Lerner 2015. 160 pages
First published: 2015
ISBN: 9781467781060 (paperback)
9781467758420 (hardcover)
Original language: German
Book type: Graphic Text
Book genre: Historical

Text Elements:

panel arrangement, point of view, setting

Reading Range

 
Cycle
Elementary
Secondary
 
1
2
3
1
2
ELA
K
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL Intensive & Enriched
5
6
1
2
3
4
5

Description:

This graphic novel is inspired by the life of Matthew Henson, whose reputation as a gifted Arctic explorer is being resurrected after nearly a century of obscurity. Concise language and spectacular artwork highlight Henson’s universally acknowledged skills, as well as the racism he faced from colleagues and society at large.

The tale intertwines storylines of Henson as an elderly janitor, with memories of his adventurous prime, and an Inuit-inspired theme that offers an alternative perspective.

Illustrations use only black and blue, in bold line and solid fills to create vivid images of the Nicaraguan jungle, Arctic sea ice and mythical pictographic sequences. One panel shows expedition leader Commander Robert Peary, addressing a crowd in New York City: “Only a proud and God-fearing nation such as ours is worthy of conquering the North Pole.” Another full-page image depicts blank Arctic white; in the far corner stands the small figure of Matt, in bearskin parka and snowshoes, his head metamorphosed into pictograph form. “I can feel that we’ve reached our goal. Commander … use your equipment to check. I am certain.”

The book’s combination of facts, imagination and informed hypotheses offers opportunities for discussion about perceptions of truth—both in the past and today. An introduction considers the value of oral history. An illustrated chronology identifies the known facts of the story.

  •  

    Read the opening scenes and discuss the changes in setting (time and place) that are interwoven into the narrative.

  •  As a whole class, discuss the way the various characters are portrayed. Focus on the differences based on race, gender and culture.
  •  Rewrite the story, as a written or graphic text, from the point of view of a different character. Share the story with a small group and reflect on the way the change in perspective changes the story.
  •  

    From whose point of view do we learn about history? Discuss why it is important to ask this question, then listen to the author’s introduction.

  •  

    ​In a Venn diagram, put Matthew Henson and the white man's point of view on one side, and Mahri Pahluk with the Inuit's point of view on the other. What do they have in common?

  •  

    Analyze the techniques the author uses to show changes in time between Henson’s early and later years.

  •  

    Reflect on the explicit and implicit examples of injustice found in the text and illustrations. Analyze and collate this information creatively to encourage critical thinking among your peers.

  • To exercise critical judgment
  • Citizenship and Community Life
  • Environmental Awareness and Consumer Rights and Responsibilities
  • Social Sciences
  • Visual Arts