Saturday, July 28, 2007
The Snow Baby: The Arctic Childhood of Admiral Robert E. Peary's Daring Daughter
by Katheri Kirkpatrick
Holiday House, 2007
Guest review by A.J. Wald, resident Arctic and Antarctic expert
I do so love a surprise. That is probably why I gladly read Katherine Kirkpatrick’s The Snow Baby, even though I have shelves groaning under the weight of books on Arctic and Antarctic exploration. Book after book of determined adventurer’s and scientist’s tales of grim survival under the trials of cold, darkness, fear and, sometimes, madness. Not a single one of these volumes, however, tells the story of the sweet-faced little tyke born to Robert E. Peary and his wife Josephine Diebitsch Peary on September 12, 1893 on the shores of Smith Sound, Greenland.
Other books on the Arctic barely mention the birth of Marie Ahnighito (the woman who sewed Marie’s fox skin coat and caribou skin trousers also provided the baby’s middle name) Peary. Marie’s story is important, however, within the context of Arctic exploration and in light of her own, unique experiences.
It will come as no shock that Marie Peary did not have a stereotypical childhood. Beginning her life in Greenland, she was taken south to Washington D.C. at age 11 months. There, the Snow Baby lived with her mother and her maternal family while her explorer father continued to strive to reach the North Pole. A pattern developed that brought Marie and Mrs. Peary back to the Arctic for periodic reunions with Robert Peary, interspersed with time in ‘civilization’.
During the Arctic episodes, Marie meets a who’s who of North Pole exploration, from the indispensable Inuit, to the ice pilot Bartlett, to Mathew Henson. Marie has her own adventures too, skidding across glaciers, literally by the ‘seat of her pants’.
Her life, both in the far North and in the urbane strictures of Victorian America, fascinates and informs the reader about the history and the society of the times. Ms. Kirkpatrick does not shy away from the recognition of Robert Peary’s ‘other’ children, produced by his liaisons with Inuit women. Her frank, tasteful explanation of the historical existence of Marie’s half-brothers and sisters was refreshing in its tact and honesty.
There is a truly excellent map of Robert Peary’s expeditions and delightful photographs of the Pearys and the extended family, the Inuit of Greenland, the ships, dogs and characters that were part of Marie’s life. A fine bibliography of research works and a useful index round out this very worthwhile fifty page edition.
Upper level 4th and 5th grade readers, girls or boys, will be able to glean a great deal from The Snow Baby, as will anyone who delves into the exciting and complex life Marie Ahnighito Peary.