The Voyages of Christopher Columbus Essay - Critical Context

Armstrong Sperry

Critical Context

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.