2022 Gift Guide Addendum (Or, a Last Hurrah Before Hibernating)
December 15, 2022 § Leave a comment
It’s my final blog post of 2022, and I’m closing out the year with a BANG! Today’s book was actually the first book I chose for this year’s Gift Guide, only I had to replace it when the publication date got pushed again and again…and again. For awhile there, it looked like it wasn’t going to come out in 2022 at all, but it’s finally here, and it’s very much worth the wait! So consider this your 2022 Gift Guide ADDENDUM.
I’ve previously established my kids’ obsession with polar bears, not to mention that we probably own every book published on the subject, fiction or non-fiction, so I won’t belabor that now. What I will tell you is that none of the polar bear books on our shelves—none of them!—hold a candle to this one. Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann are no strangers to spectacular narrative non-fiction. Their 2020 title, Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera, meticulously researched and brilliantly executed, won the prestigious Sibert Medal for best informational picture book of the year (plus it was a 2020 Gift Guide pick!). But consider this: honeybees aren’t actually that cute; vital, of course, but not exactly a species you’d like to cuddle. So, imagine Fleming and Rohmann turning that same artistry onto the subject of polar bears—arguably the cutest (albeit deadliest) animals alive!—and you’ll understand why kids are going to swoon over this book.
It’s not just the stunning, oversized oil paintings on every page that make this the standout title of polar bear troves. (Seriously, though, can we talk about the gatefold in the middle of the story?!) Equal parts entertaining and educational, Polar Bear (ages 4-9) is read-aloud gold. The dramatic, lyrical text puts us front and center in an epic, year-long journey of survival. It’s a nail-biter of a odyssey, fueled by instinct and love and threatened by an ever-changing landscape, as a mother polar bear shepherds her two cubs across months and miles of obstacles to find the ice they desperately need to survive. (Rest assured: they all make it.)
A black nose pokes from a snow bank.
Curious eyes blink in the brightness.
It is a mother polar bear,
crawling from her den,
seeing her world for the first time in five months.
Two little bears—one female, one male—tumble from the den.
Bleating and squealing, they scramble onto their mother.
This new, outside world is scary.
Hibernation has given the baby cubs ample time to mature from two to twenty-two pounds, but it has also left their mother thin and weak. She needs to find her way home to the ice of the Canadian Hudson Bay, where she can hunt, eat, and care for her new family.
It’s a trail she knows well, but one she must take slowly, since the cubs cannot walk the fifty miles a day that a grown bear can. And the threats are numerous. For starters, there are wolves.
Secondly, there is the urgent matter of food. Forty miles and six days into the journey, when the first signs of fractured ice bring the promise of food, the mother polar bear still has not eaten. Now, she must make up for lost time. But since only one in ten hunts prove successful for polar bears, Mother must continually dive for seals in the ice cracks, while teaching her cubs the art of hunting, too.
By June, the bear family has moved far out onto the ice, and while the mother has recovered most of her body fat, she now needs to build up an excess of blubber on her and her cubs, in order to survive the summer melt, which comes earlier and lasts longer every year. Polar bears burn too many calories while swimming to be able to hunt well in open water.
And then, the ice on which the mother bear and her cubs are sheltering abruptly breaks apart, pulling them miles and miles from shore and igniting the most dangerous long swim of their lives.
As the rest of the year plays out, we are treated to more dramatic highs and lows. The book’s pacing is perfection, as is the way the changing light dances on the page, as spring turns to summer and autumn to winter. As the cubs remain close to their mother for the first critical year of their life, we are shown not only what it means to survive in a threatened world, but how deep a mother’s love runs.
The book concludes with several pages of exceptional backmatter, addressing polar bear anatomy, the threats of climate change on polar bears’ habitats across the Arctic, and a myriad of fascinating factoids about this marvelous creature. A feast for young polar bear lovers and their caregivers—and the perfect book with which to hibernate away our own winter months.
And that’s all, folks! A huge, heartfelt thanks to all of my readers for sticking by me through the years, as I attempt to curate the increasingly vast number of books published every year so that you don’t have to! I can’t wait to return in 2023. In the meantime, keep stockpiling books in every corner of your homes, keep reading aloud to anyone who will listen, keep making time to model your own reading, and my warmest wishes for a safe, healthy, and snowy holiday season!
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Book published by Neal Porter Books/ Holiday House. All opinions are my own. Links support the beautiful Old Town Books, where I am the children’s buyer (and yes, we ship!).
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