CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 9 . . . .December 21, 2007
Little Polar Bear and the Reindeer.
Hans de Beer. Translated by J. Alison James.
New York, NY: NorthSouth Books (Distributed in Canada by Publishers Group Canada), 2007.
32 pp., pbk., $8.95.
Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 4-7.
Review by Harriet Zaidman.
Lars wrapped the cable around the lowest pipe. He looped the other end around the shoulders of the musk oxen, and they began to pull. "Keep going!" Lars encouraged them. "Pull…and pull…and pull!" Slowly, step by step, they moved forward. Soon the pipe began to shift a little. Then all of a sudden, it pulled loose. The entire pile came crashing down with a deafening roar and broke through the fence.
Picture books can address important issues to help young children understand our changing world, performing a valuable educational service. In Little Polar Bear and the Reindeer, Hans de Beer informs children about how the development of oil resources interrupts the natural rhythm of the life in the North.
In the story, a herd of reindeer is blocked on its migratory path by a wire fence and mountains of pipe intended to transport the oil to southern markets. Lars, also known as Little Polar Bear, has befriended Otto, the musk ox, and Oliver, a lost baby reindeer. Plucky Lars figures out how to breach the barrier so the herd can travel south to find food for the winter.
De Beer is both the author and the illustrator of the story. His drawings are anthropomorphic but not overly sweet, and he depicts the rugged topography of the North well. But the drawings are not identified to an area of the North which circumnavigates the earth and has both flat and mountainous regions. There would be no harm in fixing the location of the story to let children know that this issue is the same in many countries with northern climates. Although instructive in terms of awakening the consciousness of children to the impact of human activity on the environment, the story has serious weaknesses in accuracy, a level of which might be expected in such a book. Polar bears roam within range of salt water since they only eat seals and other marine animals. They head north in winter, not south as do reindeer, which begs the question as to how the animals cross paths. The plot is not overly exciting – the animals meet, start on the quest to find Oliver's mother, are stopped by the fence, easily break down the fence and go on to their destination. There is no foreshadowing to indicate that Lars has the intelligence to wrap a cord around a pipe, nor understand that pulling it will cause the pile to fall. There are no other subplots to add suspense or humour.
But children are drawn to de Beer's books about the adventurous little polar bear (there are many), and this book is sure to attract them, as well as raise questions in their minds about the cost of progress.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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