Cover image for North
Napoli, Donna Jo, 1948-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Greenwillow Books, [2004]

Physical Description:
344 pages ; 24 cm
Tired of his mother's overprotectiveness and intrigued by the life of African American explorer Matthew Henson, twelve-year-old Alvin travels north and spends a season with a trapper near the Arctic Circle.
Reading Level:
600 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.0 9.0 78679.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.4 15 Quiz: 37771 Guided reading level: S.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Central Closed Stacks
J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Chanelle laughed. "You'd never have the guts to get near a polar bear in real life. And you'd never travel that far. You the mamma's boy, I hear."

But Chanelle is wrong. Alvin has more guts than even he realizes. And he isn't a mamma's boy. In fact, when his over protective mother goes too far, he leaves home.

Where can Alvin go, though?

He heads north. He will follow in the footsteps of his hero -- Matthew Henson, the bold Arctic explorer. Alvin will prove that he can take care of himself. Alvin will go north to the deadly cold; north to terrifying, frozen windy expanses, where it's easy to get lost even near shelter; north to polar bears and wolves; north to himself. . . .

Author Notes

Donna Jo Napoli was born on February 28, 1948. She received a B.A. in mathematics, an M.A. in Italian literature, and a Ph.D. in general and romance linguistics from Harvard University. She has taught on the university level since 1970, is widely published in scholarly journals, and has received numerous grants and fellowships in the area of linguistics.

In the area of linguistics, she has authored five books, co-authored six books, edited one book, and co-edited five books. She is also a published poet and co-editor of four volumes of poetry. Her first middle grade novel, Soccer Shock, was published in 1991. Her other novels include the Zel, Beast, The Wager, Lights on the Nile, Skin, Storm, Hidden, and Dark Shimmer. She is also the author of several picture books including Flamingo Dream, The Wishing Club: A Story About Fractions, Corkscrew Counts: A Story About Multiplication, The Crossing, A Single Pearl, and Hands and Hearts. She has received several awards including the New Jersey Reading Association's M. Jerry Weiss Book Award for The Prince of the Pond and the Golden Kite Award for Stones in Water.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 4-7. Twelve-year-old Alvin, an African American whose hero is Arctic explorer Matthew Henson, finds his freedom curtailed by his overprotective mother. When she enlists a neighbor to escort him to and from school, he runs away from his D.C. home and heads for the Canadian Arctic--inanuary. As he makes his way northward by passenger train, boxcar, small plane, dogsled, and finally on foot, many people help him, including Idlouk, an Inuit hermit who takes Alvin into his home. After facing trials that challenge his courage and thinking ability, Alvin leaves for home in the spring with a new sense of freedom and confidence. Some readers will be surprised by the many adult characters who speed the unprepared boy toward his goal and by the fact that the story stops before he reaches home. Idyllic, yes. But the story's authentic feel, strong narrative thrust, and vivid descriptions of Arctic life take readers on a journey they won't soon forget. --Carolyn Phelan Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Napoli (Beast; Daughter of Venice) may not be able to hook her usual fans with this overlong adventure tale, which begins rather thinly. Alvin, the protagonist, is a 12-year-old African-American boy growing up in a matriarchal household in Washington, D.C. As presented here, Alvin's life resembles something broadly depicted on a television after-school special: his strict mother forbids him to go into white neighborhoods without her, and his grandmother always backs her up. "If the mamma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy" is one of Grandma's favorite sayings, and early on she chuckles at having bought a sweatshirt with those words for a Kwanzaa present: "Grandma didn't care one way or the other about Kwanzaa, but she was ready to take advantage of anything that would allow her a belly laugh." When he walks away from a drug dealer's offer to make him a runner, his mother chastises him for speaking to a dealer in the first place. Having plunged into an assignment for African-American History Month to research his hero, Matthew Henson, Alvin now decides to run away and retrace Henson's path to the North Pole. By this point the plot requires a major suspension of disbelief; unfortunately, the author probably won't have earned the audience's willingness to go along. The road trip that follows brings a pastiche of characters from different cultures; a band of Inuk ranks among the most intriguing. While the setting becomes exotic, the narrative hews to convention: Alvin broadens his view of the world and learns gratitude for his family and home. Ages 9-up. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-Napoli, perhaps best known for her retold fairy tales and legends, spins a compelling, modern adventure. Sixth-grader Alvin, nicknamed "Dwarf" by classmates, is dying under his fearful Mamma's overprotectiveness. When his teacher gives an assignment to select a famous African American to study, Alvin is intrigued by Matthew Henson. Starved for adventure, the boy decides to run away to the North Pole-in January. Using the money he has saved for a bicycle, he leaves his Washington, DC, neighborhood on a train bound for New York, then heads to Toronto, then on to Winnepeg. Several adults, and lots of luck, help him along the way. In Winnepeg, he jumps into a freight car bound for Churchill, nearly freezing to death during the more than 33-hour trip. Here he connects with Inuit people (he's the first African American they've ever seen), who help him get to Bylot Island near the Arctic Circle, where he spends a season with a trapper, learning to survive sunless days, eating lemming and walrus stew, and rapidly growing in stature and self-confidence. The final page finds the boy, in June, arriving home. Napoli includes lots of interesting information about Henson and Inuit culture, and important messages about the value of cultural diversity. Alvin's luck may strain credibility at times, but readers will be cheering him on. He will inspire them to believe that even the most daunting obstacles can be overcome.-Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.