Polar Bear by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, 2022. 9780823449163
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
Format: Hardcover picture book
What did you like about the book? This gorgeous, poetic picture book traces a year (almost) in the life of a mother polar bear and her two cubs from the time they emerge from their hibernation den in April to the arrival of the winter ice in December. The bears traverse their Arctic home, the mother hunting for seals as her cubs learn at her side. The mother’s ancient instincts lead them along this annual journey to find food and prepare for each coming season; she is living off her fat stores and nursing her young, and keeping them safe from the elements. When the family finds itself afloat on a small chunk of ice and must swim for hours to find land again, Mother begins to realize things are different from how she remembers. She can sense changes taking place in their environment, as ice melts sooner in the spring and freezes later in the winter than she expects, making it increasingly difficult for her to find food and safe haven.
With multiple awards between them, including the 2021 Sibert Medal they won together, Fleming and Rohmann are a force to be reckoned with. On one hand, Polar Bear is an admiring homage to the legendary survival skills of a creature in a harsh but beautiful landscape, and on the other it is a pointed commentary on the impact of climate change on one of Earth’s most powerful animals and its home. Lyrical text and stunning oil paintings work in perfect harmony to depict the cozy family’s trek across the snowy Hudson Bay setting. Readers will find the pictures of the bears with their expressive faces and sleek fur quite appealing and will be fascinated by the details of the bear’s adaptations, particularly how they go so long without eating and how they know exactly where to go each year. Worrisome scenes – one involving some hungry wolves and the other the extra-long swim for the cubs – are quickly and gently resolved, and there is a happy ending for this family, but we are definitely not left with a positive feeling for the future of this species. A diagram of a polar bear’s many physical adaptations provides insight into its ability to survive; an author’s note includes a lot of scientific detail behind the story both in terms of polar bear physiology and climate change in the Arctic. There is also a section entitled ‘A Few Cool Facts,’ and a list of recommended websites and books.
Anything you did not like about the book? No – although I do worry that younger kids will be attracted to the cute cover and then a bit put off by the copious text and the serious nature of the narrative when they might be expecting something less heavy.
To whom would you recommend this book? Students in grades 2 and up who are interested in polar bears, endangered species, or environmental issues. A useful resource for research projects in those areas, it will be a welcome addition to classroom science collections and school libraries especially where updated books addressing climate change are needed.
Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries
Where would you shelve it? Nonfiction – #599.786
Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.
Date of review: January 16, 2023
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