A Polar Bear in the Snow by Mac Barnett

Cover image for A Polar Bear in the Snow

A Polar Bear in the Snow by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Shawn Harris (9781536203967)

A polar bear emerges from the snow, only appearing when he lifts his black nose to the air and opens his black eyes. He journeys across the snowy polar landscape. The narrator wonders where he is going. Maybe to visit the white seals also playing in the snow? No, he is not hungry. Maybe he will hide from the snowstorm in a cave? No, his fur protects him. He also won’t meet a man out on the ice, opening his mouth to growl loudly. It turns out, he is heading for the water to swim and play. After that, who knows where he is heading next.

Barnett uses so few words on the page here. His restraint and focus are masterful, keeping the word count low. His questions about what the bear is doing also invite young readers to ask questions about this book and others they read. To have plenty of curiosity and wonder about books and the world around them. The ending too allows for that curiosity to continue after the book is done.

Harris’ illustrations are subtle in their use of white and shades of white. He uses paper collage to create caves, subtle changes of angle and texture, mountains, and more. When blue is introduced as the bear reaches the sea, there is a tranquility from that color, a celebration that the bear enjoys too.

Restrained, gorgeous and full of amazing moments. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

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.

4 Compassion-Filled Picture Books

Letters to a Prisoner by Jacques Goldstyn

Letters to a Prisoner by Jacques Goldstyn (9781771472517)

This wordless picture book is almost a graphic novel in style. A father and daughter head out with protest signs marked with red circles that match the little girl’s red balloon. Waiting for them though are police in deep blue, who speak with blue squares. The red circle protesters are beaten with batons and taken away to jail. The girl’s father is held in isolation, dreaming about his daughter and their time together. Suddenly, the man gets mail but the guards don’t approve of it. More and more mail arrives from the mice and birds. The guards burn the letters, but the scraps fly into the air to be found by others around the world who write more letters in response. Soon the jail is buried in letters and the letters form wings that carry the man back to his daughter.

Based on the letter writing campaigns of Amnesty International, this picture book/graphic allows young readers to not only understand that people are jailed wrongly around the world but also to have a way to help. The illustrations have a wonderful energy to them. They show the despair of the jailed man but not without small glimpses of hope in the form of small animal friends. A strong message of unity and working together for justice pervades this book. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (E-galley provided by Netgalley and Owlkids Books.)

The Only Fish in the Sea by Philip C. Stead

The Only Fish in the Sea by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell (9781626722828)

When Sadie and Sherman discover that Little Amy Scott threw the goldfish she got for her birthday into the ocean, they know that they have to do something. Sadie gets right to planning, immediately naming the goldfish Ellsworth. Helped by a small gang of monkeys in striped shirts and red bandanas, the children also borrow a boat, get a net and two long fishing poles, balloons, paint and slickers. They head out onto the ocean, trying to be patient as they try to catch Ellsworth before supper. Will their plan work? What will they do with Ellsworth if they save him? And what will happen to Little Amy Scott?

Stead’s writing works seamlessly with Cordell’s zany art. The story has lovely details that enrich the book, giving a sense of community, of a detailed plan and the joy of working as a team to rescue someone. The art by Cordell adds the wonderful monkeys and the pink balloons that keep sending their own messages. A wet and rainy riot of a picture book that is sure to make even the dampest child smile. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Pup and Bear by Kate Banks

Pup and Bear by Kate Banks, illustrated by Naoko Stoop (9780399554100)

The Big Freeze was coming to the Arctic and the wolves took shelter. But when the Big Melt came, one little wolf pup was stranded on a sheet of ice and unable to reach land. He swam and swam, finally falling asleep in a snowdrift. There, a polar bear found him. The little wolf was scared at first, but the polar bear offered to help him. She took him to her den, fed and cared for him. Even though she was not his mother, she could do many things for him like teach him where to fish and play together. As time passed, the wolf grew old enough to head out on his own. He met other wolves and led a pack. Then one day, he found a baby polar bear alone in a storm, and the seasons and cycles continue.

Illustrated by award-winning Stoop, the Arctic images are done on wood, allowing the grain to come through and form swirls in the blue sky. The white animals glow against the Arctic setting filled with blues and greens. Banks’ text is poetic and evocative as it describes the beauty of the Arctic and the wonder of care for others. A lovely picture book with a strong message of extended community. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (E-galley provided by Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.)

Shelter by Celine Claire

Shelter by Celine Claire, illustrated by Qin Leng (9781771389273)

The animals are all getting ready for a big storm. They have closed their doors and are making their dens cozy and warm. Two strangers arrive out of the blustery wind and begin to ask at each door for shelter. They have tea to offer, but one after another the neighbors all say no. The little fox though heads out with a lantern for them, but nothing more. As the snow begins to fall, the strangers know they will be fine. But the fox family’s shelter is failing due to the weight of the snow. Soon they are outside in the falling snow and asking for help themselves. Who will help them?

This book explains with a gentle tone and a non-didactic approach about the failure of community when it becomes isolationist and the power of kindness and compassion for those in need. After all, one might become the ones who need help eventually. The illustrations by Leng glow on the page. They show the lovely families together and their warmth with one another and the love they have. That is then turned quickly on its head as they turn away the strangers. A strong and simple tale that will lead to important discussion. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (E-galley received from Netgalley and Kids Can Press.)

Review: Polar Bear’s Underwear by Tupera Tupera

Polar Bears Underwear by Tupera Tupera

Polar Bear’s Underwear by Tupera Tupera

Polar Bear has lost his underwear and he can’t remember what they looked like. It’s up to readers to turn the pages and help Mouse find Polar Bear’s underwear. Could it be the striped underwear? Nope, those are Zebra’s favorite ones. The pair covered in doughnuts and treats belongs to Pig. The little flowery pair is too small for Polar Bear but fits Butterfly perfectly. Rabbit wears carrot printed underwear…on his head! One after another, there are no Polar Bear underwear. But wait, could it be that Polar Bear had them on all along?

Sure to elicit giggles, this book uses die cuts on pages to great effect. The first page shows just the underwear and little readers will delight in turning the page and seeing who they belong to. Each one makes sense with the animal on the next page, making a book that is nicely satisfying even as it is full of humor.

The illustrations are strongly done and will project well to a room of children. With plain brown paperbag backgrounds, the collage illustrations pop on the page, whether for pink pigs or black cats. The twist at the end works very nicely with the illustrations, since readers can turn back to the very first page and notice the trick carried throughout the entire book.

Funny and delightfully clever, this Japanese picture book is sure to find a happy audience in the United States. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

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: 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: The Ice Bear by Jackie Morris


The Ice Bear by Jackie Morris

Poetic and mystical, this picture book is a rich read.  In the beginning of time, people and animals were as one.  Two tiny polar bear cubs were born into the world and cared for by their mother bear in an ice cave.  But the mother was tricked, and Raven was able to steal one of the cubs away.  A hunter found Raven with a bundle of white fur.  Raven flew off, and the hunter picked up the bundle of fur and headed back home on his sled.  When he brought the furs into his home, he and his wife discovered a baby inside.  The two had wished for a child and here was one.  They raised him as their own.  When the child was seven years old, Raven returned and drew him out onto the ice and away from home.  There he almost froze to death, until the bears found him and took him away with them.  He is a boy of two families, two worlds, who must make a choice.

Morris proves here that she is just as radiant a writer as an illustrator.  Her story is told in words that make you slow down, savor them.  If you read them aloud, it reads as verse, a poem in paragraph form.  The world she creates is one of wonder and timelessness.  It is a world at birth, a world that mirrors our own, but is also filled with magic and connections.  She has created a picture book that is an invitation to dream.

Her illustrations have a lot to do with this too.  They capture the Arctic landscape in all of its blues, whites, and purples.  Then they also show the human family filled with the warmth of fire, furs and the snugness of their home.  But most powerful of all is the bear home, where it is still cold, but the heat and warmth comes from the animals themselves, shown powerful in creams and yellows and equally loving.

A gorgeous story that is both beautifully written and illustrated, this book is radiant.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

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