________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 15 . . . . December 14, 2012


Ben and Nuki Discover Polar Bears. ("Ben Discovers..." Book Series, Vol. 1).

Michelle Valberg.
Ottawa, ON: MV Photo Productions, 2012.
38 pp., pbk., $20.00.
ISBN 978-0-9686582-1-5.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

*** /4



My grandmother explained to me that polar bear fur looks like it is white but it really has no colour at all. Each hair is completely colour-free and hollow.

"They look white because the hollow hair reflects light, just like snow and ice," said Nuki.

"In school, my teacher called that translucent," replied Ben. "But I think it is magic!"

"How do polar bears stay warm in the very cold Arctic winters?" Ben asked.

"One way is they have a thick winter fur coat and a layer of fat under their skin," Nuki said.

"They also have black skin that absorbs energy from the sun to warm their body. Ben, did you know that polar bears have black tongues?" asked Nuki.

"Wow! I didn't know that," answered Ben. "That is really cool."

Through the author's professionalism with photography, this book showcases strikingly animated polar bear shots that give the reader a comprehensive and appealing look at this spectacular Arctic mammal. Top quality photos also highlight the relationship of two young boys, one from the north, the other from the south, discovering a little about each other's culture and lifestyle. This self-published book was inspired by the author's involvement with Project North, an initiative to enhance the lives of Canadian children living in Arctic communities. Proceeds of the sale will help to supply sports equipment to these Inuit youth, a commendable objective.

internal art      While readers will enjoy the dynamic images of the polar bear in this book, they will also find many children's publications on this popular topic currently in the marketplace, both as fiction and nonfiction. To stand out in such a crowd, an original approach is needed. As nonfiction, unfortunately, the Q/A style (dialogue between the boys) to present polar bear facts is didactic and outdated, and the lack of any reference to the grave environmental threats to these bears is regrettable. Given the author's award-winning skill with capturing engaging shots, one wishes she had taken the decision to create a photo-essay of the bears alone, perhaps, to share the information. When fictional elements of characters and invented dialogue are included without a well-developed story arc, the result is an awkward mix of fiction and nonfiction that satisfies the expectations of neither one.

      Ben and Nuki Discover Polar Bears is promoted as Volume 1 of the "Ben Discovers...." series. However, it begins with the introduction of Nuki and his trip south, and not until nine pages in does it shift focus more to Ben as he travels north. However, the choice of omniscient viewpoint throughout gives the young reader little chance to identify firmly with either boy. Yet one of the main draws of a (fictional) series is a strong, likeable character who has aroused reader empathy. Ben simply enjoyed his northern tour and learned a lot about polar bears but did not develop as a credible enough fictional character to carry off further adventures.

      If you are looking for excellent photos of polar bears that clearly show many of the animal's characteristics, this book is worth a read. As a "tale of two boys from very different cultures", it largely misses the mark.

Recommended with reservations.

Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.

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

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