The Impossible Voyage of KON-TIKI

The Impossible Voyage of KON-TIKI

  • 1695

By: Deborah Kogan Ray

“One day my theory was complete. I must go to America and put it forward.”
—Thor Heyerdahl, Norwegian anthropologist, 1946

Thor Heyerdahl was convinced that ancient Incans traveled a 5,000 mile journey from South America to the South Pacific by raft. Impossible! That’s what everyone told him when he spoke of his theory.

He was determined to prove them wrong. In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl and a five-man crew travelled to Peru, built a raft out of trees, and set sail on the Pacific Ocean headed for the Polynesian islands of the South Pacific. It wasn’t that easy, however. Thor researched his theory for more than ten years, he worked with New York’s Explorer’s Club to raise funds for the journey, with the United Nations to get international clearances, and with the U.S. Navy for equipment.

It was a dangerous journey and hard on six men on a raft fashioned after an Incan log raft, but 101 days after they set sail, they landed on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific. Thor Heyerdahl proved that the journey could be done!

Deborah Kogan Ray’s luminous illustrations highlight the drama and danger of the expedition and show the amazing beauty of the life of the ocean.

Look Inside the Book:

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Deborah Kogan Ray, author and illustrator

Deborah Kogan Ray studied painting and printmaking at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She is an award-winning author and illustrator of children's books, including Dinosaur Mountain (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and The Barn Owls. She particularly enjoys depicting the natural world. Deborah lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Read more about Deborah Kogan Ray.

Awards & Honors:

Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year 2016 - outstanding merit

Editorial Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews

Bucking expert opinion, a young Norwegian anthropologist sets out on a balsa log raft to show that pre-Columbian voyagers from South America might well have traveled to the Pacific islands.

Thor Heyerdahl's 1947 voyage moved the dial from "impossible" to "possible," but not to "probable," and as the author herself admits in an afterword, there is still little credible evidence of any sustained westward migration. Nonetheless, the tale of that 4,300-nautical-mile journey makes a grand one. Ray's prose describes how he sailed with his crew of five from Peru without escort through seas calm and wild, supplementing stored provisions with caught fish, braving months of sudden rogue waves and damaging storms on the way to a final shipwreck on a Polynesian reef. Ray uses watercolors to create soft-edged views of the raft and its small crew, varying her perspectives and her palette as much as possible to avoid potential monotony. One sunset image with the raft in the distance and a school of flying fish in the foreground is particularly effective. She heads her matter-of-fact narrative with quotes from Heyerdahl's bestselling account on each page, closing with further commentary and a biographical note.

A low-key tribute to a now little-remembered expedition that is still capable of catching the imagination.

The Horn Book Magazine

When he was still in college, the Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl lived for a year on the Polynesian island of Fatu Hiva and became fascinated with a question: where did the Polynesian islanders come from? Stone carvings on the island resembled statues found in South America, indicating, perhaps, “a connection between the Polynesian Tiki and the Incan god Kon-Tiki Viracocha.” Though skeptics scoffed at Heyerdahl’s idea (most scholars believed that Polynesia was originally settled from Asia), in 1947 he embarked on a 4,300-mile ocean voyage and proved that ancient Incan sailors could have reached the South Pacific by raft. In dramatic double-page watercolor spreads, Ray follows Heyerdahl and his five-man crew on their 101-day odyssey on a balsa-log raft. Emphasizing highseas adventure over theory, the story will capture the imagination of young readers with the drama of flying fish, gale-force winds, giant waves, and, ultimately, the raft’s fortuitous landing on an uninhabited Polynesian island. However, though the large-scale illustrations are visually appealing, they also limit the number of scenes in which to tell the story, and the long ocean voyage is over too quickly for young readers to get a true sense of the arduous quest. Back matter includes a more thorough discussion of anthropologists’ theories of populations and migrations and notes that Heyerdahl was one of the first to warn of pollution in the oceans and to advocate for a “green world.”

School Library Journal

Using concrete language and evocative watercolors, Ray tells the story of anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 voyage to prove his hypothesis that the ancient people of Peru traveled by raft to settle in Polynesia. Heyerdahl and his five-man crew sailed on the Kon-Tiki, a raft made of hemp and balsa wood that was named for an ancient Incan god. Their equipment consisted of a sextant, shortwave radios, and cameras to document their travels, and they subsisted mostly on fish. This extraordinary 101-day passage began at a harbor near Lima, Peru, and ended on an uninhabited island in Polynesia. Excerpts from Heyerdahl’s own descriptions of frightening storms and calm and lonely days at sea appear in bold type on almost every page and greatly enhance the author’s slightly dry narrative. A colorful map of the voyage on the endpapers complements the text. A short section, “Aftermath of the Impossible Voyage,” explains that Heyerdahl and the crew were hailed as heroes for proving that a primitive craft could cross the Pacific Ocean—but recent DNA studies have not proven the Heyerdahl theory. A one-page biography of Heyerdahl is appended. VERDICT An intriguing and useful account of a remarkable journey.


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ISBN: 978-1-58089-620-7

ISBN: 978-1-60734-906-8 EPUB
ISBN: 978-1-60734-905-1 PDF
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Ages: 7-10
Page count: 40
8 1/2 x 11

Correlated to Common Core State Standards:
English Language Arts-Literacy. Reading Informational. Grade 3. Standards 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10
English Language Arts-Literacy. Reading Informational. Grade 4. Standards 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 10

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