As a book in the Landmark series, a series for young readers dedicated to impart information as well as inspiration, The Voyages of Christopher Columbus fills a need of the juvenile and young adult audience. Youth has need of heroic tales, and Sperry’s slant in this biography fulfills that requirement. He depicts Columbus as a visionary who restlessly sought to accomplish his goal, persisting through scorn, disappointment, failure, and loneliness. According to Sperry, there is no mistaking the message that Columbus’ chief goal in undertaking the voyage was noble: to spread the Christian faith and then bring honor to Spain.
Modern historians dispute the validity of much of the available information about Columbus. Furthermore, Sperry gives no evidence of scholarly research to substantiate his work. Facts and myths are interwoven into the fabric of the book (the book has no bibliography). For example, in chapter 5, there is a dramatic scene in the throne room in which Columbus, after much effort, finally receives financial support and authority from the Crown to sail west to the land of the Khan. Sperry dramatically describes Isabella of Castile’s magnanimous gesture of donating her emeralds to defray the cost of the voyage. Historians, however, denounce the story of Isabella’s donation of jewels as myth.
Sperry devotes considerable space in the first ninety-eight pages of his 186-page volume building up details about Columbus’ character traits (determination, faith, and loyalty) and his nautical ability, which make him competent in...
(The entire section is 645 words.)
The Voyages of Christopher Columbus has endured as a classic because many middle-school students enjoy tales about heroes who overcome all odds to accomplish what they set out to do. Before 1950, few historical fiction materials were available for the ten-to-fifteen-year-old student to supplement history texts; Sperry’s book even predates the common use of the term “young adult literature.” Sperry was motivated to write this piece of historical fiction by the enthusiasm of a movement to include historical and biographical writing in the body of materials made available to young readers. Since the 1950’s, however, the children’s book industry has flourished, providing new books in every genre. In contrast to young adult material on Columbus published in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Sperry’s viewpoint and treatment differ from those of current scholars. More recent approaches emphasize the fact that Columbus did not truly discover a “new” world but rather put existing cultures of different continents into contact. They also include a body of research emphasizing the fact that Columbus’ voyage was only one of a number of exploratory voyages that were initiated by navigators in that era.
Sperry’s account of The Voyages of Christopher Columbus can still have a message for young readers. It serves as an example of one author’s perception of Columbus’ life and times, and as such it has merit as a piece of writing representative of the biography for young readers of the 1950’s. A comparison of the slant of Sperry’s account with a contemporary biography, in fact, may prove interesting to the modern young adult audience.