Hall made her reputation in library science, but she, like Nansen, did not concentrate on one type of work only. For this book, she traveled to Norway, where she had access to Nansen’s unpublished personal diaries and other writings and speeches. Because Nansen was published in 1940, it reflects the limits of its time. Because World War II had not yet occurred, World War I was the greatest catastrophe yet known. Furthermore, as biographies often did in those years, Nansen shows an undisguised admiration for its subject.
Despite these limitations, there are several reasons why this biography might continue to interest young readers. First, as schools attempt to improve multicultural education, Nansen presents a little-known but admirable person from Norway and shows how his environment influenced him. Second, Nansen’s life bursts with energy in sports, exploration, science, and scholarly study. In his later years, he was known for his work for the poor and neglected of the world. He could prove to be a hero for young people whose interests lie in any of these fields. Third, Hall’s writing is very fine, full of vigorous passages that place the reader directly into the scenes. At one point, the reader vicariously experiences long frozen days and nights in a tiny hut in the Arctic Circle. At another time, one accompanies and appreciates the quiet reflective walks that Nansen cherished in Norway’s dark forests. Near the end of the book, the young reader anguishes with...
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This biography cannot be compared with other books on Nansen for young people because there are few available. Although it was originally published in 1940, Hall’s Nansen, a 1941 Newbery Medal Honor Book, went into several reprintings, including one in 1957, indicating its popularity at one time. Today, it is out of print but still available in many libraries.
One aspect of the book that makes it dated is the fact that oceanography, nearly unknown in Nansen’s time, became popular among many young scientists after World War II. Furthermore, exploration has advanced far beyond Nansen’s dreams. In addition, regrettably, the work that wore Nansen out at the end of his life lasted only a short time before a second great war threatened to destroy whatever had been accomplished by the work of the League of Nations.
As a well-written biography of a lesser-known hero, however, Nansen deserves its place in the realm of biographies for young readers. It brings to the fore not only the life of an interesting Norwegian but also the essence of another era. Within the context of literature for young adults, this book has a place, although a small one. Its style is quite different from that of the popular young adult books and its subject matter is foreign both in time and place, but the text may inspire some young readers and lead them to search out books on related issues.