[Nonfiction Wednesday] The Curious Case of Jemmy Button

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Fats here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2015 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, as well as reading challenges that we have pledged to join this year.

Our reading theme for November – December: The Butler Did It! MysteREADventure!

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Jemmy Button

Written by: Jennifer Uman
Illustrated by: Valerio Vidali
Published by: Templar Books (2013)
Award: The New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Children’s Book (2013)
Book borrowed from Milan-Berlin Public Library. Photos from online sources.

While I was searching for possible titles for our Mystereadventure theme, Jemmy Button was one of the books that appeared in the results. I remember seeing it last year but never got a chance to pick it up. Imagine my delight when I found out that this picturebook was inspired by the true story of a boy named Orundellico from the islands of Tierra del Fuego.

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The story began in the early 1800s. Robert FitzRoy, captain of the HMS Beagle, sailed from England along with his men to the tip of South America and made their way to the Tierra del Fuego islands. After carefully studying the life of the indigenous people living on the islands, Captain FitzRoy decided to take a boy — Orundellico — with him back to England to be “civilized”. In exchange for taking the boy, Captain FitzRoy decided to give Orundellico’s family a mother-of-pearl button. This was how Orundellico became known as Jemmy Button.

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Jemmy Button followed the Englishmen back to England where he was taught Christianity and Victorian customs. Soon, he was wearing a hat and fancy clothes, just like everyone else. He attended music concerts, had his photos taken, and even found himself in the company of King William IV and Queen Adelaide. He felt like he belonged, but not quite.

Sometimes he missed the island.
He missed the trees and their boughs,
and the stars in the night sky.
The time came to return home.

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The story of Jemmy Button’s return to Tierra del Fuego was one I find most riveting. Captain FitzRoy had high hopes that Jemmy Button would teach his people about everything he had learned when he was in England, especially Victorian civilization. When Jemmy Button realized that he was back on the island, he removed his clothing and relearned his native language and customs. For Orundellico, Tierra del Fuego was home and where his heart truly belonged.

A before and after photo of Jemmy Button.

A before and after photo of Jemmy Button.

Jennifer Uman and Valerio Vidali’s shared interest in the fascinating story of Jemmy Button led them to collaborate on this picturebook. Aided by an online translator, English-speaking Uman and Italian-speaking Vidali shared their thoughts about travel, homesickness, and the story of Jemmy Button. This nonfiction picturebook makes use of sparse text and breathtaking full-spread images. I was as mesmerized as Jemmy Button while I looked at Vidali’s gorgeous illustrations.

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#AWBRead2015 Challenge Update: 109 (35)

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#nfpb2015 Challenge Update: 71 (25)

  1. I would have totally used this book for our Social Science I class had this been published earlier. I read this a few months ago, I believe. Simply fascinating.

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  2. I actually wrote about this book for a nonfiction picture book Wednesday, too! I found the depiction of Button’s experiences a bit problematic, as the historical events are fudged in this interpretation to make for a neater story. It’s a case of “inspired by a true story”, rather than “based on a true story”, but I think that’s the case with a lot of books or films based on actual events, isn’t it?

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  3. The blurriness of based on/inspired by is tricky indeed. I’d been meaning to read this-in fact, every time someone reviews it. Happy Holidays!

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  4. I must admit that I didn’t know there was any truth to a Jemmy Button. I will look for the book & find more info about this. Thanks, Fats, looks like a nice entry into the story at least.

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  5. You always have such creatively done posts. Thanks for joining in every week.

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  6. […] Valerio Vidali’s Jemmy Button who traveled from the Tierra del Fuego islands to England (see Fats’ review here), then there is Emily Hughes’ Wild (see my review here). But there is something simple and […]

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