Marco Polo: The Boy Who Traveled The Medieval World
Author: Nick McCarty
Pages: 64
Publisher/Date: National Geographic/2006
ISBN: 0792258932
Age Levels: 8-12

Book Review

Note: National Geographic World History Biographies™ is a series of illustrated biographies for children ages 8 to 12. The individual books are stunning—highly readable, entertaining, and visually spectacular. Make room on your library or classroom bookshelves for these top-notch, non-fiction titles.

Divided into four chapters, "A Boy in Venice," "Stetting Out," "The Long Journey," and "Working for Kublai Khan," Marco Polo examines the fascinating life of the medieval merchant and traveler. We learn that shortly after Marco was born, his mother died. At the time, his father, Niccolo, and his uncle, Maffeo, were traveling in the east. Marco was raised by an aunt and uncle.

Marco was a teenager by the time his father and uncle returned home. Both men were full of tales from their travels through China, including a story about meeting the great Kublai Kahn, the ruler of the Mongols. Apparently:
The two men promised to take a message to the pope in Rome from Kublai Khan . . . After years of wandering, the two brothers sailed across the lagoon, past the islands on its edge, and landed on the dockside in Venice, the bustling city they had not seen for so long. The year was 1269. Niccolo Polo did not know that his wife was dead or that he had a 15-year-old son.
The homecoming, we find, "was not so much a rest as a pause. Before long, they planned their next journey to China. This time, they decided to take Niccolo’s young son, Marco Polo, with them."

Setting sail in 1271, the Polos braved pirates, war zones, deserts, floods, and more. Along the way:
They traveled . . . through Baghdad (the capital of modern Iraq). Marco thought is was the most beautiful and "noble" city in the region and he commented on the wonderful carpets woven in the city. Trains of merchants bringing treasure from the east passed them. Their camel trains smelled of spices and scented woods, and rattled with jewels and elephant tusks. Even the pack animals were covered in silk and golden cloth.
In May, 1275, the Polos arrived in Shang-du, China, Kublai Khan’s summer palace. Impressed with Marco’s "quick intelligence," Kublai "decided to employ him as a traveling spy, acting as the ruler’s eyes and ears in distant parts of his empire."

It was during these travels that Marco was able to observe the cultures, cities, people, geography, and animals of the exotic east. In India, he "saw the pearl fishers of Malabar diving beneath the waves and heard about the supposed dog-headed men of the Andaman Islands who ate anyone they caught." For 17 years Marco traveled on behalf of the great Khan. What he saw and heard eventually ended up in a book he wrote titled, The Description of the World.

Twenty-four years after the three Polos set sail from Venice, they arrived back home. According to legend:
the three men, still in their ragged clothes, did not look as if they had been making their fortune for all those years. At last, the Polos . . . took off their padded jackets. To their relatives’ surprise, they took their knives and slashed at the seams of the old clothes. A stream of diamonds, emeralds, rubies, topazes, and sapphires scattered across the dining table. Here were the results of more than 20 years of trading, along with gifts from Kublai Khan.
McCarty does a fine job of capturing the excitement and drama of Marco Polo’s life. Filled with photographs of medieval artifacts such as weavings, jewelry, and artwork, the book also includes a timeline which runs along the bottom of the text. A glossary, bibliography, and index are included.

A wonderful choice for browsing or report writing.

Reviewed by the teachers at Education Oasis
©2006 Education Oasis

About the Author

Nick McCarty was an elementary school teacher before becoming a full-time author. His most recent books include The Iliad: A Retelling, Alexander the Great, Troy, and Rome. He is also an award-winning scriptwriter for television and radio. He lives in London, England.