"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

ReedALOUD: The Quest for Z

The idea of their being "blank spots" and unexplored places on the planet is such a exciting concept. I don't have the temperament to be an explorer, but I would love to visit some recently discovered places, like the one in Cambodia under Angkor Wat or the recently discovered cities in the Amazon. Unlike me, Percy Fawcett had the belief, drive, and temperament, but not the tools to achieve his greatest dream -- finding the city of Z, as he named it. Too bad he was not born a hundred years later than he was. 
Thank goodness for children's book authors and illustrators who bring incredible stories like this to light. Greg Pizzoli has done just this with his new biography about Percy Fawcett, The Quest for Z: the true story of explorer Percy Fawcett and a lost city in the Amazon. I recently read The Quest for Z with my fifth grade classes and they were hooked from the outset. 
Pizzoli has done a brilliant job of making Fawcett's story accessible, engaging and interesting to young readers. Helpful maps and sidebar information fill in the knowledge gap and expand understanding.
The effective employment of humor, both in the narrative and the art, humanizes Fawcett and gives insight into the often scary reality of the trips. 

After numerous mapping expeditions, some with rather gruesome events, Fawcett sets off on his seventh trip to the Amazon with his son and his son's best friend. Pizzoli once again gives insight into Fawcett's quest to find Z showing him trotting along at a pace the two young men cannot maintain. 
Newspaper accounts helped finance the expedition and an eager populace followed the journey. Dispatches were sent out from the group to local runners who delivered them to the journalists. Fawcett certainly believed his quest had a higher calling.
The students were unaware that this was Fawcett's last message, his last communication with the world. I turned the page and left it up on the screen for the students to read. There were audible gasps.
This illustration is incredibly powerful and informative. The newsprint leaves choke off the light, the darkness overcomes the page, and the words are being swallowed up by the rain forest. Wow. We needed to wait here a moment.

Pizzoli could have ended the story there, but my students and I are glad he did not. The events following his death are equally as interesting. The mystery of what happened has kept explorers venturing into the Amazon in the hundred years since Fawcett's disappearance. Again, Pizzoli's telling of this aspect of the story translates much through both art and narrative. Quiet a few people have not made it back from their quest to find Fawcett. Sounds a bit familiar, right?
After hearing about those who have tried to find out what happened to Fawcett and the two young men, the reader is informed that despite these failures, modern technology has allowed explorers to find lost cities in the Amazon, not the big buildings that Fawcett envisioned, but ancient civilizations nonetheless. As Pizzoli posits, maybe Fawcett wasn't a failure after all, maybe his quest hepled this later exploration to happen.
My students and I were left discussing not only Fawcett's story, but also: how amazing that Fawcett survived as many trips as he did; the idea that maybe there are those who do not want these lost cities found and are maybe trying to protect them; and yet, how exciting it is to hear of these ancient places and the people that inhabited them. The end papers provide a subtle reminder that Fawcett is still out there somewhere.
We needed to look at maps and websites after reading the book. Luckily, the back matter includes suggestions. I also found these two pictures in a report about the movie, Lost City of Z. I didn't show the report, just the two photos. The picture of Fawcett along the border helped the students understand how daunting the task was to map the borders.
The final trip

Fawcett mapping the border between Bolivia and Brazil in 1908.

Thank you, Greg Pizzoli, this is one shared reading experience they will not soon forget. #coolbeans.

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