Looking for Marco Polo
Alan Armstrong (Juvenile Fiction)
Mark Hearn’s father is a teacher of anthropology and about to embark on a trip to the Gobi Desert. Like Marco Polo, he wishes to meet and live with the desert people. Before leaving, he gives Mark a worn copy of The Travels of Marco Polo and says that he will be following the same route as the famous explorer. Mark receives frequent letters from his father, but when correspondence suddenly stops, he boards a plane to Venice with his mother in search of answers. Mark’s old paperback suddenly becomes a map, holding clues to his father’s possible whereabouts.
After Mark and his mother arrive in Venice, you can divide this book into two sections. The first we can call “Sightseeing in Venice” as the reader is provided several famous Venetian landmarks, as well as a few notable Polo sites (his former residence and the church he visited on feast days). The second half focuses on Polo’s time in China and could be called “My Many Conversations with Kublai Khan”. Here, the story drags a bit as Polo describes to Khan his multi-year journey. It also chronicles Polo’s travels throughout the Mongol Empire.
Armstrong describes his book as a work of fiction stating, “The spine of travel is somewhat as Marco described it, as are the ribs of the larger adventures. The rest is imagined, but possible…”. Although many parts of the book are indeed overly dramatized and romanticized, the main points are factual: Polo did travel through much of Asia with his father and uncle where they met Kublai Khan; Polo was imprisoned and dictated his story to a cellmate named Rustichello de Pisa; and Polo’s book did serve as inspiration to many later explorers, including Christopher Columbus.
If you mention Marco Polo to your child and the first thing that comes to mind is a pool game, then Armstrong’s book would be a good introduction to the man. Perhaps it might even inspire your young reader to find out more about this famous merchant, trader, and explorer. In the meantime…Marco! Polo!
* Book cover image attributed to http://www.amazon.com