HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Mrs. Chippy’s Last Expedition: The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton’s Polar-Bound Cat
Author: Caroline Alexander
Illustrator: W. E. How
Publisher: Harper Perennial, reprinted in 1999
ISBN-13: 978-0613605816 Hardcover
ISBN-10: 0613605810 Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0060932619 Paperback
ISBN-10: 0060932619 Paperback
Related website: http://www.harpercollins.com (publisher)
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 8-14
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Alexander, Caroline. Mrs. Chippy’s Last Expedition: The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton’s Polar-Bound Cat (published in 1997 by Harper Perennial, a division of HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 10 E. 53rd St., New York City, NY 10022). In 1914-1915, Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (1874-1922) led his 29-member team in an ill-fated attempt to make the first crossing of the Antarctic continent. After setting out from London’s East India Docks on Aug. 1, 1914, and calling on their way at Plymouth, Madeira, Tenerife, and Buenos Aires on their journey to South Georgia Island, they never even made it to land as their ship, the Endurance, became embedded in the ice of the Weddell Sea on Jan. 18, 1915, and, after nine months of being stranded, was finally crushed and had to be abandoned on Oct. 27. Fortunately, on Aug. 30, 1916, following many more months of hardship, Shackleton secured the rescue of all his men. In his diary, the captain of Shackleton’s ship, Commander F. A. Worsley, wrote, “The carpenter has a very fine cat who is known as ‘Mrs. Chippie.’”
Chippy belonged to ship’s carpenter and master shipwright, Henry “Chippy” McNeish, from the Scottish village of Cathcart, outside of Glasgow, and was actually a tiger-striped tomcat, but by the time the mistake in gender was finally discovered, the crew was so used to calling it “Mrs. Chippy” that the name stuck. Basing her book closely on the true events of Shackleton’s heroic journey drawn from the diaries of crew members, not just the famous or the high ranking but everyone, and illustrating it with authentic photographs taken by Frank Hurley, expedition photographer, author Caroline Alexander writes as though the cat were keeping a journal and thus gives a feline perspective on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Aside from some common euphemisms (blame me, blast it), the word “Lord” is used a few times as an interjection, one person calls Chippy a “d—d cat” (spelled just like that), and there are some references to smoking a pipe.
Some people have objected to this book on the grounds that it pretends that Mrs. Chippy actually witnessed these events, pointing out that Mrs. Chippy, along with several dogs, was killed when Shackleton began his journey on the ice. However, it does not pretend any falsehoods. Of course, it is obviously a fictionalized account, though of a true series of events; besides, the journal ends on October 29th, and Chippy perished that afternoon. And, remember, it was written to appeal to young people. I must admit that I had a little trouble keeping my interest up at times while reading the story, but it is still a fact that Alexander does an excellent job of capturing the behavior and seeming attitude of a cat. In my view, the best purely historical account of Shackleton’s expedition is Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, but Alexander has written her own serious account entitled The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition.