Review: Tanna’s Owl by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley

Tanna’s Owl by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, illustrated by Yong Ling Kang (9781772272505)

Based on the story of the owl one of the author’s cared for as a child, this picture book offers a glimpse of life in the Arctic as an Inuit family. Tanna’s father came back from hunting with a baby owl. It was so ugly, it was somehow also cute. The owl had to be fed two or three times a day, so Tanna and her siblings caught lemmings to feed it. The owl, named Ukpik (or owl in Inuktut), lived in her father’s workshop. When the owl was hungry she would stomp her feet, sway back and forth, and chomp her beak. Soon Ukpik wanted even more to eat and everyone was tired of catching lemmings, so they started to feed her other types of meat, including caribou and fish. Her beak was very sharp, so now she had to be fed with gloves on. When summer ended, Tanna had to return to school in another community. She didn’t return home until the next summer. That’s when she found out that Ukpik had been set free. But maybe the large white owl that she saw around their home was Ukpik coming back to visit.

The authors clearly share both sides of caring for a wild animal. There is the initial joy of learning about the animal and starting to be able to understand their needs and ways of communication. Then there is the drudgery of the ongoing care. At the same time, there is a delight in being that close to a wild creature, of knowing it needs to learn to fly away someday, and knowing you are helping in some way. The book also shows modern Inuit life complete with an unusual way of attending school. 

The art is large and bold with the images fully filling both of the pages. Readers will get to see the transformation of the owl from small and gray to a graceful white bird. They will also get glimpses of the Inuit home and the wide-open setting of the Arctic.

An inspiring picture book for kids who dream of caring for wild animals themselves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Inhabit Media.

Review: Sea Bear by Lindsay Moore

sea bear by lindsay moore

Sea Bear by Lindsay Moore (9780062791283)

Told in the voice of a polar bear, this picture book follows her journey along the ice. She has learned to be patient: in her hunting and with the weather. Spring comes breaking the ice into smaller pieces. The bear hunts seals and takes naps with a full belly. With summer, the ice melts even more. Now the sea bear must swim to the shore that she can smell in the distance. She swims for days, accompanied by other sea animals as she swims including whales, narwhals, and walruses. She is caught in a storm but eventually makes it to the beach. During the summer, she grows thin, waiting for the freeze to come. She knows she will teach her own cubs patience too.

Moore manages to tell the story of a wild animal without anthropomorphizing her too much. The use of the bear’s perspective makes the story all the more personal and impactful. The impact of climate change is clearly depicted here, but not mentioned directly as the cause until the author’s note at the end.  The writing is dramatic and immediately draws readers into the story where they will learn all about the incredible story of the polar bear’s year.

The illustrations are done in watercolor, graphite, inks, crayon and colored pencil. They are just as intense as the story, showing the amazing journey and depth of water the polar bears swim in. Adding sea creatures to her swim adds to the beauty of the Arctic and shows the scale of the bear in the vast ocean.

Moving and informative, this picture book tells a detailed story of one creature’s patience and resilience. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: You’re Snug with Me by Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry

You're Snug with Me by Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry

You’re Snug with Me by Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry (9781911373476)

This new picture book follows You’re Safe with Me, this time journeying to the Arctic. A mother polar bear digs a den deep in the snow and there she gives birth to two cubs. Once they are born, she tells them “You’re snug with me.” As the cubs grow up, they have lots of questions about the world outside their den. Their mother answers all of them, ending each answer with “You’re snug with me.” The bears talk about taking care of their snowy home, of ice melting and how important the oceans and ice are for their survival. Eventually, the season changes and the cubs are large enough to head out into the world with their mother who still tells them they are snug with her.

The poetic text of this picture book offers both a snug den and a warmth but also a journey into the frozen world of the Arctic. Soundar also inserts environmental information into the swirling text, creating moments to learn about our interconnected world and the perils of the polar bears. The use of a refrain in the book anchors it firmly to oral traditional tales, making it all the more impactful.

Mistry’s illustrations are exceptional. Here she has created Arctic landscapes out of a series of geometric patterns that celebrate the cold, snow, and ice. The bears too as well as their den is filled with the motions of these detailed and patterned images. These are illustrations to linger and marvel over.

Another unique picture book from this team, this time focused on polar bears and the environment. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: On the Shoulder of a Giant by Neil Christopher

On the Shoulder of a Giant by Neil Christopher

On the Shoulder of a Giant by Neil Christopher, illustrated by James Nelson (InfoSoup)

Based on a traditional Inuit folktale, this picture book shows what happens when a massive giant takes an interest in a small human. Inukpak was big even for a giant. When he walked across the land, he could easily step over rivers and wade the deepest lakes. He could cross the Arctic on foot in only a few days, fishing for whales along the coasts. Then one day he met a hunter, whom he mistook for a little child. Before the hunter knew what has happening, Inukpak had adoped him as a son and placed him on his shoulder. In just a few steps, they were so far from the hunter’s home that he didn’t know how to return. As Inukpak got them dinner in the form of a huge whale, he almost drowned the hunter just from the huge waves that splashed as he walked in the water. When a polar bear attacks the hunter, Inukpak just laughs and tosses it away. In time, the two became good friends, the giant and the hunter.

The stage is set very nicely for this story with an introduction that explains what stories the book is based on and how the author came to know so much about Arctic folklore. The pages after the story expand the topic of Arctic giants even further with explanations of different kinds of giants. The storyline is not as linear as European tales, allowing readers to get a sense of the giant and a different rhythm of storytelling at the same time. The huge and kind giant is full of appeal thanks to his huge sense of humor and the merry way he approaches life in the Arctic.

Nelson’s illustrations are playful and jolly as well. They show the various areas of the Arctic from the seashore to the more inland areas. The size difference between the giant and the human is kept fairly consistent throughout the book, This giant is much larger than most and that adds to the appeal as well. The natural landscapes of the book are thoughtfully done as are the various animals. The lifelike depictions of these elements make the giant all the more believable.

One huge giant and one little man create a great story together and one that can nicely be shared aloud. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Blown Away by Rob Biddulph

blown away

Blown Away by Rob Biddulph

Penguin Blue has a brand new kite but when he flies it, it lifts him right off the ice and up into the air. Two other penguins try to help and get swept along too. Wilbur the harp seal tries to catch them and joins the group flying along. Blue calls out for help from a polar bear and then Clive is riding along too, his boat and all. They are finally dropped on a lush warm jungle isle where they all agree it is way too hot. Blue has a great solution though, it will just take Clive’s boat, leaves and vines and one good gust of wind that is provided by the elephants on the island. Soon the group are back in their icy home, but there is one stowaway from the island who now needs to figure out how to get back to the warmth of the jungle.

This romp of a picture book is filled with a positive feel throughout. Each new challenge is playfully presented and merrily dealt with through clever solutions. The text rhymes and creates a jaunty cheer that makes this book great fun to share aloud. The rhyming story is written very strongly with a great story arc that solidly supports the humor. This is a book that is immensely satisfying to read.

The design of the book is stellar with playful word design and placement that enhances the strong illustrations. The book is beautifully illustrated with images filled with strong graphic elements, deep colors and also small playful touches. Children will enjoy lingering over the illustrations and spotting the penguins waiting for the bus on an ice floe and the bear losing his map immediately. The combination of strong vivid illustrations and small details make for a book that has its own unique vibe.

A great read-aloud for any penguin story time, this picture book will be enjoyed by preschoolers looking for a complete and playful story. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

Review: Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk

sweetest kulu

Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk, illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis

Kulu has just been born and is being welcomed by the world.  Kulu is Inuit and as the world comes to welcome the baby, traditional Inuit beliefs are shown in the story.  It is the Arctic summer, so the first to welcome Kulu is Smiling Sun, who stays bright all through the night.  The Wind arrives and teaches Kulu the importance of listening closely.  Then the animals start arriving.  These are not your normal animals, but ones that are specifically from the Arctic and of importance to the Inuit.  With each animal comes a blessing:  the Snow Bunting reminds Kulu to always believe in himself, Fox tells Kulu to get out of bed as soon as you wake and to help anyone who needs it.  The entire book sings with a connection to nature, to this specific region of the earth, and for the love of a baby.

Kalluk, who is an Inuit throat singer, has beautifully captured the values of her people in this picture book.  It is done so organically and naturally that many will not realize that this is more than a sweet picture book.  The fact that it also weaves in traditions and values of the Inuit makes the book all the more special and noteworthy.  Kalluk writes very lyrically, creating moments for each of the animals that are unique to them which keeps the book from becoming repetitious.

The illustrations have a lovely cartoon quality to them, one can almost see them leaping to life from the page.  The large animals dwarf little Kulu by their bulk, but the tenderness they all feel for this tiny baby shines on the page.  There is a respect between human and animal that is warm and tangible too.

A gorgeous and meaningful book welcoming a baby to the world, this picture book is unique and special.  Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from ARC received from Inhabit and Myrick Marketing.

Review: Polar Bear Morning by Lauren Thompson

polar bear morning

Polar Bear Morning by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Stephen Savage

Following the picture book Polar Bear Night, this second book continues the story of the little polar bear cub.  The cub wakes up and peeks out at the day and snow outside her warm den.  As she starts to explore, she discovers another little cub out playing too, sliding down a little snow hill.  The two of them immediately start playing together, running towards the sea and eventually jumping into the icy water side by side.  The two little friends end up together on an ice berg surrounded by family, seals and whales.

Perfect for toddlers, this book speaks to the speed at which small children can find playmates and make friends.  As the two polar cubs run together, they pass different arctic animals like seals, walrus, seagulls and whales.  The text is brief and clearly sets the story in the arctic, the cold, the ice and the warmth of friendship.

Savage once again has amazing illustrations that are filled with chunky shapes, deep textures and shading that makes it stand out.  My favorite page in the book has the two small cubs nose to nose, one with a plop of snow on his head. 

A nice morning read aloud, this book be a good fit with bear story times or wintry tales.  Appropriate for ages 1-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.

Review: Waiting for Ice by Sandra Markle

waiting for ice

Waiting for Ice by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Alan Marks

This is the true story of an orphaned polar bear cub who has to survive the wait for the ice to return without the help of her mother, who would normally have cared for her for another year or two.  This cub lives on Wrangel Island, far north of Russia in the Arctic Ocean.  She lives there with many other polar bears, but she is alone.  She has to find dead things on the shore to eat, defend her finds from scavengers, negotiate other food from hunting bears, and manage to survive.  Many other cubs die from starvation, but this little cub survives.  She manages to live until the ice floes return.  Even then, she is one of the last to leave the island, unsure of how to live on the ice away from land.  Eventually, she spends more and more time on the ice, and then she is carried off into the ocean where she must learn to survive in a new way.

Markle captures the harrowing and desperate life of an orphaned cub in a very straight-forward way.  The reader knows of the danger that this cub is in and how difficult her life will be.  This white-furred heroine also captures the mind of readers, demonstrating time and again how brave and resourceful she is.  Markle takes care not to humanize the life of the bears, instead they are respected as animals with their own lives.  Few human emotions are spoken about, instead the drama comes directly from the situation and survival.

Marks’ illustrations recreate the cold of the Arctic on the page.  Done in whites, blues and browns, they are chilling, warmed only by the young bear at the center.  Marks draws the movement and feel of polar bears with a confidence and care.  These are solid illustrations that do much to support the book as a whole.

A stirring tale of survival set in the Arctic Circle, this book will be enjoyed by young nonfiction readers.  It is also a nonfiction book that would work well in a story time setting thanks to its inherent drama.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.

Review: North: The Amazing Story of Arctic Migration by Nick Dowson

north

North: The Amazing Story of Arctic Migration by Nick Dowson, illustrated by Patrick Benson

This poetic look at the amazing Arctic starts with the deep winter and the few animals who survive there year round.  Then spring comes to the Arctic and the sun comes back along with some warmth.  Plants start to appear from under the snow.  Soon more animals will arrive.  The first to head out on their journey are the gray whales, that swim from Mexico to the Arctic Circle.  Birds head north too in flocks.  Herds of pregnant caribou journey north, followed closely by the gray wolves looking for weakness.  Walrus, narwhal, schools of fish, all of this life crowds the Arctic summer until the weather turns cold and brutal again, and once more they head back around the world.

Dowson’s words are poetry in this book.  Not only written in verse form, they also speak to the soul of the Arctic, the beauty of the place and the glory of the creatures who live there.  At the same time, the words are scientific and filled with information about the place and the animals.  It is an elegant combination of poem and fact.

Benson’s art is striking.  He created paintings that are both natural and accurate but also have a sense of artistry.  Much of the art is about the landscape, the place itself and the grand amount of space there.  The illustrations of bitter winter are cold and bleak with dim, gray light.  Then the reader turns the page and it is spring with its lemony light and sprigs of green.  The change is striking to the reader and beautifully captured.  There are moments like this throughout the book.

A striking mix of poetry, art and science, this book will speak to a range of different children looking to understand their world a little better.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.