Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Impossible Voyage of Kon-Tiki written and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray

When Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl proposed a theory that ancient Incans had traveled by raft from South America to the islands of the south pacific - a distance of approximately 4,300 nautical miles - everyone thought it was simply impossible.

So when Heyerdahl was asked if he would be willing to try the voyage himself on a flimsy balsa wood raft, he rose to the challenge.  Heyerdahl had based his theory on the resemblance between statues made by ancient peoples in South America to those of the mythic Tiki found on the Polynesian island of Fatu Hiva.

On April 28, 1947, after building a raft which he called the Kon-Tiki, Heyerdahl set off from Peru with a crew of five men - four Norwegians and one Swede.  Not only did Heyerdahl want to prove his theory, but he was also asked to test survival gear by the United States Navy.  Carrying very little food with them, the crew mainly lived on what they could catch everyday, and the flying fish they found on the deck each morning.  They carried a radio to report on weather and other meteorological conditions, but everyone aboard the Kon-Tiki knew that if they ran into trouble, there was no possibility of rescue.

Almost immediately, the south Pacific Ocean proved itself to be a forceful obstacle to the voyage of the Kon-Tiki, with its powerful winds and towering waves.  Did the Kon-Tiki prove itself to be sea worthy?  Did the raft make it to the south pacific islands with all men intact and prove Heyerdahl's theory?

The route taken by the Kon-Tiki
I was very curious to read this wonderful picture book for older readers.  I had read Heyerdahl's book, Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft in high school and had found it fascinating.  It is nice to see that this exciting story is now made accessible to younger readers.

Deborah Kogan Ray has organized the story of the Kon-Tiki so that each two page spread, headed by a quote from Heyerdahl's book, shows another step in the voyage of that simple raft.  Ray's realistic illustrations are done using watercolors in a soft palette very tropical blues, greens and browns.  The illustrations are at once beautiful and powerful, often demonstrating the mountainous waves of the Pacific in relation to the small raft, as well as other perils the men of Kon-Tiki faced.

Ray has included a map (above), a short biography of Thor Heyerdahl and an Bibliography for further exploration.

Most people don't think much about the voyage of the Kon-Tiki anymore and this is a nice reminder of the brave men who undertook that trip.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

This is book 1 of my 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at KidLitFrenzy


  1. I still have my original paperback of Kon-Tiki, and shared it with different students through the years who also loved it. What an amazing story! I'm so glad to see it shared as a picture book, Alex. Thanks for this review-sounds like a good re-write!

  2. I read Heyerdahl's book in high school too, what a story! Definitely sounds like a story for kids who like adventurous, exciting stories. Thanks for sharing!

  3. This looks fascinating!!! I didn't know anything about this, and I would love to learn about it (although your post already taught me so much!).

  4. Heyerdahl's story fascinated me when I was growing up. Can't wait to read this one! Thanks for the recommendation. I hadn't heard of it before.

  5. I have never heard of this theory or the test. I am truly intrigued. I want to know more.

  6. I also have never heard of this. Very intrigued.

  7. I enjoy reading the works created by Deborah Kogan Ray - and this one is unfamiliar to me - thanks so much for a very detailed review!


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