The Quest for Z brings young readers the story of Percy Fawcett’s early 20th-century explorations in the Amazon, where he hoped to find the fabled, ancient city of “Z.” Readers know from 2015’s Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower that Greg Pizzoli writes about complicated people with honesty and never condescends to young readers.
More than half of this book provides context and insight into scientific exploration at that time, from Fawcett’s obsession with exploring new lands to details about the Royal Geographical Society, then and now. Pizzoli includes background on Fawcett’s family, his training, his expeditions to South America from 1906 to 1924 and the dangers he faced. (There’s an anaconda fright as only Pizzoli could illustrate it.) Ultimately, after setting out in 1925 to find the lost city, Fawcett and his men disappeared and were never heard from again.
Sidebars expound further on certain topics, and Pizzoli’s bold mixed-media illustrations are uncluttered and informative. It all adds up to a complex and intriguing look at a man for whom European imperialism was unsuccessful—certainly a topic rarely addressed in most K-12 curricula. In a closing author’s note, Pizzoli discusses how his own trip to Central America inspired him to finish the book: “I felt overcome by how old the world is, how much there is to see, and how many people have come before us.”
This is an unusual biography of a complicated man.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Greg Pizzoli for The Quest for Z.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.