As the days lengthen and snows begin to melt, and as we learn of yet another ice chunk breaking off from an ice shelf in Antarctica, a book about polar bears marooned on an iceberg seems to be a timely Perfect Picture Book:
Written & Illustrated By: Barroux
Publisher/date: Little Bee Books (Simon & Schuster)/2016
Suitable for Ages: 3-6 (4-8, per publisher)
Themes/Topics: refugees, sharing, global warming, polar bears, modern fable
I am a polar bear.
That’s me with my feet in the water near my friends.
Life is quiet and peaceful on the ice,
But wait a minute—
what’s that noise?
Brief Synopsis: When an iceberg breaks off and a group of polar bears drifts out to sea, the group searches for a new home but are turned away by the animals that already inhabit those islands.
Links to Resources:
- Explore polar bear activities, including Polar Bear Hot Cocoa and Cupcakes (great to share while reading together!);
- Make and study your own iceberg;
- Be a Climate Kid and learn about global warming
Why I Like this Book:
This is a simple fable about some not-so-simple problems: global warming and its effect on species like polar bears, and the refugee situation. Although one reviewer questioned the over-simplification of these issues (Refugees forced to find a new home—sadly, an always timely subject—deserve better storytelling than this. Kirkus Reviews), I’d argue that it’s exactly the over-simplification that will help adults discuss these difficult subjects with younger children. As pointed out in a New York Times review, Welcome is also appropriate for children starting a new school or facing some other new situation.
An illustrator and cartoonist, Barroux‘s bright, bold illustrations bring the sparse text to life. His large, leafy plants reminded me of Matisse’s work, lending an exotic air to the story.
A Note about Craft:
Barroux utilizes a very conversational tone in his first-person account of the bears’ search for a new home. I think first person is a wonderful way to lure the reader to empathize with these bears.
Like all good stories, we start with the “normal,” in this case sitting with our feet in the water, enjoying the day with our friends, and then the change occurs – But wait a minute—what’s that noise? Turning the page, we learn that the noise is a giant CRACK, splayed across a two-page spread, as three of four bears float away on the iceberg. Separating the friend group also is an effective technique to highlight refugees’ plights, as something, in this case someone, is always left behind.
Finally, Barroux presents several reasons for not welcoming the Bears: their fur and height, being “too bear-ish”, being “too many”, and it’s “too much trouble” to even see that they’re asking to land. Each of these reasons presents a discussion opportunity about issues of difference, attitude and what’s the right thing to do when someone needs our help.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!