Children's Review: The Quest for Z

Facing vampire bats, anacondas, assassin bugs and locals with poison-tipped arrows, a real-life Indiana Jones named Percy Fawcett mapped and explored the furthest recesses of the Amazon rain forest for two decades in the early 1900s. After his initial years in South America surveying borders and scouting for wildlife for the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), Fawcett became convinced of the existence of a great mythical city he called Z. Returning again and again to Bolivia, Peru and Brazil, the British explorer and his fellow RGS scientists and mapmakers ventured ever deeper into the jungle in search of the ancient city he believed had been built by an advanced civilization thousands of years ago. "He pictured a paradise of grand temples and palaces carved from stone, hidden from modern man deep within the jungle."

Unfortunately, his bosses at the RGS were not easily persuaded, so Fawcett got creative with his funding and travel logistics and headed back to the rain forest again in 1925. This time traveling with only his son Jack and Jack's childhood friend Raleigh Rimell, plus two local men acting as guides, and two dogs, four horses and eight donkeys, Fawcett sent reports of their progress back to England where they were printed in newspapers, thrilling eager readers. After one final dramatic letter home--"I expect to be in touch with the old civilization within a month and to be at the main objective in August. Thereafter, our fate is in the lap of the gods"--Fawcett and his crew disappeared, never to be heard from again.

In this fascinating and unusual picture book, Greg Pizzoli (Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower; Number One Sam; The Watermelon Seed) tells the true story of Percy Fawcett, a man who "thrived in the jungle," successfully disarming angry natives by singing a medley of British songs, accompanied by accordion, and fighting off a giant anaconda while in a canoe fashioned from fallen trees. Fawcett devoted his life--literally, at the end--to his quest for fame and fortune as much as for the lost city of Z.

With his matte, mixed-media artwork, heavy on the greens, Pizzoli makes Fawcett's fantastic story especially accessible to younger readers who, as they learn about the explorer's daring and sometimes terrifying exploits, will be somewhat comforted by the funny, simple little illustrations of people and wildlife. Informative sidebars give background facts about mosquitoes, other explorers and the Royal Geographic Society, while concluding notes and a glossary provide additional resources and the rather anticlimactically presented news that archeologists and researchers in recent years have used technology such as radar imaging and satellite photos to prove conclusively that Fawcett was right all along--there had been civilizations up to 10,000 years ago just where he thought there were, although they may not have been the elaborate stone cities he envisioned. Still, artifacts from the area reveal that these ancient people "made pottery, built roads, and even designed bridges!"

Adventurers of the armchair and serpent-slaying variety alike will clamor to travel with Pizzoli on Fawcett's magical but deadly real Quest for Z. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Shelf Talker: A remarkable lifelong quest takes an explorer into the Amazon jungle in search of an ancient lost city in this thrilling picture book biography.

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