Unlike other biographies that provide chronological information from the birth to the death of an individual, Cartier Sails the St. Lawrence focuses on Cartier’s accomplishments. The scarcity of personal information about this figure forced Averill to rely chiefly on translated passages from Cartier’s own narratives of his explorations. She includes only documented information, as she chose not to fictionalize or write imagined dialogues. To help readers understand the importance of Cartier’s voyages, Averill presents a background of the beliefs, fears, and politics of the time. In the foreword, Averill explains her reliance on various books of historical research for facts about the Portuguese spy Lagarto, King Francis of France, and the courtier-pirate Roberval.
The author explains to readers the strong desire to find a shorter route from western Europe to the valuable spices and silks of China, hopefully by proving that the world was round by sailing west and thus reaching the Far East. In 1493, the pope had divided the New World between the Catholic countries of Portugal and Spain, essentially giving the Far East to Portugal, and the Americas, except for Brazil, to Spain.
The jealousy and greed in the competition for new discoveries caused much spying at the various royal courts of Europe. Portuguese and Spanish agents at the French court learned of the plan to establish a permanent settlement in Canada. Efforts to enforce the pope’s decree giving sole ownership of the...
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Cartier Sails the St. Lawrence is an American Library Association Notable Book and a revision of Averill’s earlier The Voyages of Jacques Cartier (1937). Averill intended the book for older children. Because of Rojankovsky’s numerous illustrations, the design resembles a picture book. These drawings will help readers visualize the narrative. The charts are particularly helpful in showing the location of Cartier’s discoveries.
Readers will understand Cartier’s place in history as the explorer who claimed the Canadian wilderness for France. Cartier came after John Cabot, who discovered Newfoundland, and before Samuel Champlain, who established a permanent settlement in 1608 at Quebec, near the site of Chief Donnacona’s village. Averill acknowl-edges that some scholars believe that the Vikings and possibly other people of ancient times preceded Cartier to Canada, but proof is absent. Cartier, on the other hand, left his personal logbooks of his three voyages in the sixteenth century. Yet very little is known about Cartier. Averill acknowledges her indebtedness to historical researchers such as Dr. H. P. Biggar, who searched for pieces of information from libraries, from official records, and from the royal papers of the kings of the time.
Lacking information about Cartier, Averill emphasizes Cartier’s known accomplishments in her biography, relying heavily on Cartier’s own words. Clearly, Cartier’s interest lies in a factual recording of where he sailed, what he saw, and what he found. He does not indulge in extravagant phrasing or fanciful speculation. Averill’s unadorned writing style appropriately retells Cartier’s story. Thus Cartier Sails the St. Lawrence serves as a valuable educational tool for young readers who have little knowledge of this explorer of the New World.