CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 3. . . .September 26, 2008
Baby Polar Bear. (Nature Babies).
Aubrey Lang. Photography by Wayne Lynch.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008.
36 pp., pbk. & hc., $7.95 (pbk.), $15.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55455-102-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55455-101-9 (hc.).
Polar bear-Infancy- Juvenile literature.
Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-7.
Review by Keith McPherson.
Reviewed from f&g's.
It's snowing sideways. The wind is howling, and the ice on the Arctic Ocean is cracking and groaning. The old female polar bear has lived through many winter blizzards like this. She curls her body into a ball and lets the blowing snow pile up around her. It is so cold that a person's skin would freeze in minutes, but the bear's thick fur keeps her warm.
Husband and wife writer/photographer team, Dr. Wayne Lynch and Aubrey Lang, have collaborated once again to produce one of their most stunning and accessible information books to date. Drawing from 28 years experience as a full-time science writer and wildlife photographer, Lynch pools together some of his best photographs of adult and baby polar bears that will have you and your children laughing at a polar bear cub's cuteness, make you draw in breath as you observe an adult polar bear's magnificent power, and, at the very least, leave visual impressions that will stay with you for months to come.
Aubrey's 18 years' experience as a freelance writer – a storyteller - is also brought to bear on this publication. She deftly applies narrative story structure in the delivery of information about a polar bear's life cycle, physical attributes, and its marvelous ability to adapt. She activates all the reader's senses, filling in the sounds, smells, tastes, sights, and touch not directly activated in the rich photographs. The use of comparisons and similes, such as "[the female polar bear's] front paws are the size of dinner plates," "her fury feet are like a pair of warm slippers," "[the big walruses'] breath smells like stinky clams," aids children (and all readers) in comprehending the magnificence of the polar bear, the starkness of its surroundings and the uniqueness of its neighboring Arctic creatures.
Although this information book does not make use of titles, highlighted key words, graphs, captions, timelines and other advanced non-fiction 'tools,' it does include a simple table of contents and index that can be used with early readers exploring such navigational tools. The book also includes biographies of the two very accomplished writers/photographers, and a "did you know" section that contains supplemental facts about polar bears that may even surprise adult readers (e.g., melting polar ice will eventually eliminate the polar bear's main food source and thus be this creatures ultimate demise; aside from pregnant females, most polar bears do not hibernate; male polar bears can stand 11 feet tall (3.5 meters) and can weigh 1,540 pounds (700 kilograms)).
The text has a mid-grade two readability, but it can easily be read to, and enjoyed by, younger children exploring exotic and/or Arctic environments and animals. Teachers and parents could use the book to graphically explore and represent the life cycle of the polar bear. Baby Polar Bear could also be used to create a mural representing the Arctic landscape and the animals that live with the polar bear. Many of the photographs could be viewed independently, and children could imagine what the polar bears and other creatures might be saying/thinking in each photograph. The pictures containing the baby polar bears are full of life and humour and will invite all kinds of creative feedback and discussion.
Although the text in this book is clearly aimed at age 5-7 readers, the spectacular photographs and rich descriptive language will be enjoyed by all ages. I thoroughly enjoyed the photographs of the polar bear cubs riding on their mother's back and tumbling over her prostrate body, and could almost see and hear the guffawing walruses as the noisy mischievous polar bear cubs spoiled their mother's 'silent' hunting of the walrus colony. A visual and textual delight that every child should have the pleasure of viewing, reading, and/or being read to.
Keith McPherson has been a primary and elementary teacher and teacher-librarian in BC since 1984 and is currently the coordinator of the Language and Literacy Education Research Centre at the University of B.C.
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