Known by many names in many languages, the polar bear remains one of the Arctic's signature species, and as this poem reminds readers, it is "far out on disappearing sea ice, losing hold" in a world affected by climate change.
Modest in size, this brilliant book nonetheless captures the majesty of the polar bear. Lewis, a former children’s poet laureate, has the creature tell us what he’s called in different cultures, from the Inuit (“I am Nanuk”) to the Sami, who “refuse to speak my name for fear of offending me.” Nerlove’s shimmering illustrations hop effortlessly between styles of dress and the shades of white in the polar bear’s fur and habitat. The devastating ending shows the polar bear adrift on a shrinking bit of ice, “losing hold.” It’s wonderful to see a call for cross-cultural respect that also demonstrates, heartbreakingly, the interwoven lives of humans and an imposing yet utterly vulnerable species.
–Maria Russo, New York Times, 12/30/2019
Rather than simply providing general facts about polar bears, this book focuses on how these animals interact with various ethnic communities including Russians, Inuits, Eastern Greenlanders, and even Norsemen. Lewis mentions the various names that each group has bestowed upon the polar bears, such as “Sea Bear,” “the Ever-wandering One,” and “God’s Dog.” Mythology related to polar bears and the book’s featured cultures helps explain the names that the animals have been given. The text is lean yet utilizes strong imagery and poetic language such as “fount of fierceness” and “Norsemen, who wear imagination like a garment.” The artwork captures the characteristics of the bears’ icy environment, including the color scheme, and the polar bears are drawn with soulful eyes. Back matter includes a map of their Arctic habitat and information about their endangered species status, how big they can grow to be, and other scientific facts. An additional purchase for elementary collections where polar bears are popular.
–Molly Dettmann, School Library Journal, 10/25/2019