Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Arctic Survivor

On December 14, 2015 an article was posted at the National Geographic website.  This article, Extreme Research Shows How Arctic Ice Is Dwindling, written by Andy Isaacson explains the journey of the research ship, Lance.

On the Lance's five-month mission its rotating crew of international scientists would investigate the causes and effects of ice loss by monitoring the ice across its entire seasonal life cycle---from the time when it formed in winter until it melted in summer.

One quote in this informative and interesting essay by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) oceanographer James Overland reads:

The Arctic really is the canary showing that climate change is real.

For species which make their home here and rely on the climate not to change to survive, this is a frightening fact.  The largest living land carnivore is in a precarious position.  The Polar Bear (Enchanted Lion Books, November 15, 2016) written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond (The Blue Whale) serves to enlighten readers about this majestic creature.

Once upon a time, a child took a book from the shelf and started to read...

As she begins to read she learns about the other name for the polar bear, a name given to them for their lives spent on the ice of the Arctic Ocean.  As remarkable as it seems, they thrive in the bitter temperatures, equipped with two layers of fur, thick skin and a layer of fat.  Did you know their necks are longer to help them swim with their heads out of the water?

Their huge paws, sometimes thirteen inches long, act as snowshoes, paddles when swimming and shovels when digging.  The bottoms of their feet are especially equipped to help them walk on ice.  Did you know the skin of polar bears is actually black?

Polar bear eyes and ears are quite like our own, except for a protective layer on their eyes which blocks the sunlight and helps them see underwater.  Their sense of smell, though, is phenomenal.   They can sense seals, their main source of food, miles away.  They can sniff out mates and locate their cubs.

The age of a polar bear can be found by counting the rings on one of their forty-two teeth.  (I might prefer to let that remain a mystery unless a tooth is found without being attached to the bear.)  Their eating habits rely on their food source.  Could you eat a meal every eleven days?  Or go without eating for three months?  As clever as they are at hunting, seals are much faster; more get away than are eaten by polar bears.

A home habitat for a polar bear can cover hundreds of miles of ice and ice floes.  After mating in the spring, the male will leave.  The female will only become pregnant in the fall if she has enough fat.  For three years cubs will stay with their mother learning how to survive.  Like humans at the end of the day or when exhausted, polar bears enjoy a good sleep.  It's all about survival.

By using a young girl wearing a red crown, dressed in cozy clothing and boots and reading this book, Jenni Desmond provides an inviting opening to this nonfiction narrative.  The child begins by reading the book in her home and then becomes part of the Arctic landscape as she continues to read.  In turn this brings us full circle on the final page, tying the actions of the polar bear to those of the girl.  In this way it's as if we are reading the same words at the same time as the girl.

Desmond breaks down the facts about the polar bear inserting them into conversational paragraphs; life on the ice, habitat and temperature, individual physical characteristics, socialization, hunting and eating, territory, swimming, mating, birth and life of the cubs and sleep.  Her research is evident providing her with captivating facts which she shares.  Here are two portions of a passage.

Polar bears have three ways of hunting.  The most common is waiting by a hole or at the edge of the ice for a seal to surface.  Then the bear will grab the seal with its teeth and pull it onto the ice.

Another is sneaking up on a seal that is already on the ice and then running at full speed to catch it.  A polar bear can run faster than the fastest human but only for a few seconds.

At her website Jenni Desmond states:

I work by hand using mixed media, and finish the artwork digitally.

On her matching dust jacket and book case, she places the subject of the book front and center, as if we are locked in a gaze with the polar bear.  Behind the bear and to the left, on the back, a barren Arctic panoramic view is broken by the flight of five geese.

The opening and closing endpapers are nearly identical.  The top half is the rolling hills of snow and the sun shining in an Arctic hazy sky.  The bottom half is the icy blue of the Arctic Ocean.  The polar bear is swimming to the right.  The little girl is kayaking, a tiny element in this grand scheme.  She does switch direction in the two.

The title page shows the girl removing this book from a shelf with other northern life and nature titles including Desmond's own The Blue Whale.  The heavier matte-finished paper gives realistic texture to the images.  The first picture gives us a view beyond the bookshelf of the girl stretched on a bed covered in cozy blankets.  Next to it is a low table with colored pencils, a sketch pad, a tea pot and a bowl of colored balls.  Her stuffed toys, eight animals, are reading along with her.

All of the illustrations span two pages.  Their scope and perspective impressively vary from the polar bear much smaller walking through a blizzard, showing him on an ice floe between glaciers, shaking off water and splashing the girl to an extreme close-up of his nose working to locate food, a mate, cubs or danger.  In one of many wonderful sequences we are given a bird's eye view of the bear swimming between ice floes with the girl leaning over to watch.  They are placed in the far right-hand corner.  With a page turn we are close to both of them, watching how the bear's body moves under water.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of the girl sitting on one side of a crevice and the polar bear on the other side.  The crevice is shown like a peak of a mountain stretching downward into the deep Arctic waters.  The polar bear can smell the seal swimming to the surface. The girl is holding a fishing pole over the water.  On either side of the hole is a large expanse of snow.

The Polar Bear written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond is a stunning piece of nonfiction.  In an Author's Note prior to the title page she speaks about the need to protect the polar bear and their habitat.  Their habitat protects our planet.  This title appears on The New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2016.

To learn more about Jenni Desmond and her other work please follow the links attached to her name to access her website and blog.  Jenni maintains a Twitter and an Instagram account.  Jenni Desmond was the recipient of a 2016 Sendak Fellowship.

You can find more information about polar bears at ARKIVE.  For more information about the Arctic and climate change go to the World Wildlife Foundation site and another page here.

Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see the other titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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