________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 7 . . . . November 26, 2004


Tooga: The Story of a Polar Bear.

Shirley Woods. Illustrated by Muriel Woods.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2004.
96 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 1-55041-900-5.

Subject Heading:
Polar bear-Juvenile fiction.
Wilderness survival - Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Mary Thomas.

**½ /4


In early January, when the cubs were a month old, they opened their eyes. At about the same time, they began to crawl. By now their fur was thick enough so that the cold floor was no longer a danger. As they became stronger, they tried to crawl over their mother. This was difficult, as neither could grip onto her long and glossy fur.

Tooga, after many attempts, finally managed to climb up his mother's side. When he started down the other side, however, he lost his grip and slid to the floor with a thump. As soon as he got over his fright, he climbed back up and did it again. Apoon followed close behind. For the next few weeks, sliding down their mother was their favorite pastime.

Early in December, twin polar bear cups were born in the snow den which their mother had scooped out of a large drift nearly a month earlier. She had been dozing in a state of semi-hibernation since then, awaiting the arrival of the cubs. Tooga, the male, and Apoon, his sister, then stayed with her in the den for about three months, eating, sleeping, and growing, before she introduced them to the outside world. From that point, readers follow Tooga's progress to young adulthood, including a narrow escape from drowning in a seal's breathing hole, his increasing independence, and his first encounters with human beings. One of these last was the most humorous touch in the whole story: an irrate fisherman storming out of his cabin to complain about a racket and suddenly being confronted by a large polar bear drawn to the camp by the aroma of a barbeque and intent on devouring the entire contents of their chill chest!

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     Shirley Woods, in his “Author's Acknowledgments,” expresses gratitude to a number of wildlife experts who helped him produce an accurate picture of the early life of an Arctic bear. He has certainly done so. Insofar as any animal, or human being for that matter, can be said to be typical, after reading Tooga, readers have a very clear idea of how a polar bear develops, is fed (or feeds himself), and manages life on a daily basis. It is a very interesting account, the more so because of Tooga's unintentional travels down the coast of Labrador on an ice floe (This is perhaps not entirely typical!). The black-and-white sketches by Muriel Wood greatly enhance the narrative.

     What the book is not, however, is a good novel. None of the bears has, or develops, any real character in the course of the book. Woods was undoubtedly trying not to anthropomorphize his bears, trying not to give them human motivations and reasoning processes, but in so doing he has kept the reader from developing any emotional involvement with them. The result is a fine, well written project on polar bears. It is not a story to engage a reader looking for a gripping narrative, and nor is it a book to engage a reader strictly looking for facts about the polar bear since it is ninety pages of fairly dense text with only intermittent illustrations. Worthy books have a fairly limited audience.

Recommended with Reservations.

Mary Thomas works in, at the moment, three Winnipeg, MB, elementary school libraries, soon to be reduced to only two.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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