The Polar Regions

Book Links: June/July 2001 (v.10, no. 4)

by Barbara Elleman, Laura Tillotson, and Beth Warrell

To mark
Book Links' tenth anniversary, we've updated this 1990 article by founding editor Barbara Elleman. Look for more "
Book Links Classic" articles in the future.—

With the recent flurry of books about Sir Ernest Shackleton's calamitous voyage to Antarctica, as well as newly published journals and biographies of other polar explorers, Americans have become acquainted with the Arctic and Antarctic as never before. This list of books on the polar regions encompasses a wide range of reading levels and genres, helping children discover these majestic, unforgiving spaces and their people and wildlife. A variety of approaches can be used in teaching these titles, which include picture books, photo-essays, biographies, and folktales. For instance, a comparison of Ekoomiak's
Arctic Memories and Dewey's
Antarctic Journal gives perspective on the differences between the poles. Use Houston's
Frozen Fire and Armstrong's
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World to draw up a list of necessities for survival in the challenging climate. Of course, maps, globes, and atlases should be used in connection with the study of these regions as well. Fiction titles provide excellent opportunities for classroom activities. The wild escapades of Mr. Popper and his penguins suggest dramatic skits for middle-graders to act out, while younger children will find Sierra's
Antarctic Antics an ideal inspiration for writing their own poems. Finally, drawing children's attention to different illustration styles in the depiction of the polar regions is a worthwhile activity. For example, comparing Dabcovich's muted pastels with Waldman's luminous, watery hues will give individual dimension to each work, and Ekoomiak's intricate embroideries show inspiration from traditional Inuit needlework.

Picture Books

Andrews, Jan.
The Very Last First Time. Illus. by Ian Wallace. 1986. 32p. Aladdin, paper, $5.99 (0-689-81960-9).

K-Gr. 2. Watercolors in rainbow hues and a beautiful, mysterious adventure combine in this story of Inuit child Eva Padlyat's explorations at the bottom of the sea. Words and pictures work together to show the feeling of a child setting out to do something on her own for the first time, in this case, cutting a hole in the ice, climbing down to the ocean floor, and harvesting mussels while the tide is out.

Bushley, Jeanne.
The Polar Bear's Gift. Illus. by Vladyana Langer Krykorka. 2000. 32p. Red Deer, $16.95 (0-88995-220-5).

Preschool-Gr. 2. Pani, a young Inuit girl living deep in the Arctic Circle, dreams of being a great hunter. When she finds a wounded polar bear cub far out on the ice, she must decide whether to wait for the bear to die or help the animal.

Cowcher, Helen.
Antarctica. 1990. 32p. Farrar/Sunburst, paper, $5.95 (0-374-40371-6). K-Gr. 2. Cowcher's bold art provides background to a story centering on the breeding habits, feeding patterns, and interdependency of emperor penguins, Weddell seals, and Adélie penguins. The ending suggests the probable disruption of the natural order of Antarctic wildlife as humans penetrate the region.

Dabcovich, Lydia.
The Polar Bear Son: An Inuit Tale. 1997. 32p. Clarion, $16 (0-395-72766-9); paper, $5.95 (0-395-97567-0).

K-Gr. 2. An elderly Inuit woman adopts an orphaned polar bear cub. As it grows bigger, it cares for her by providing food. But the village's men resent the bear for being a better hunter and threaten to kill it. The woman sends the bear away to save its life, but they are reunited each day when she ventures out far across the ice where the bear waits for her with fish. Soft, pastel illustrations display the region's austere beauty.

DeArmond, Dale.
The Seal Oil Lamp: Adapted from an Eskimo Folktale. 1997. 48p. Sierra Club, paper, $7.95 (0-87156-858-6).

Gr. 2-5. Born blind, Alluga is saved from death when Mouse Woman repays the boy for an earlier kindness to her baby mouse. Numerous wood engravings enhance this engaging story.

Ekoomiak, Normee.
Arctic Memories. 1990. 32p. Holt, $15.95 (0-8050-1254-0); paper, $5.95 (0-8050-2347-X).

Gr. 3-6. In this picture book for older readers, Inuit artist Normee Ekoomiak uses embroidered art and soft watercolors to help readers understand Inuit culture. The author depicts fascinating scenes of hunting, playing, migrating, and religious celebrations from his childhood. The text is written in both English and Inuktitut, and a map of the area appears on the back cover.

George, Jean Craighead.
Arctic Son. Illus. by Wendell Minor. 1997. 32p. Hyperion, $14.95 (0-7868-0315-0); paper, $5.99 (0-7868-1179-X).

Preschool-Gr. 3. Luke is a white boy living in the Arctic. An Eskimo friend of the family gives him the Eskimo name Kupaaq and helps him experience Inupiat Eskimo culture. Kupaaq fishes, whales, and participates in the Eskimo ritual of welcoming the sun back after the long, dark winter. Minor's watercolors display the contrast between the bright vastness of the sky, snow, and water, and the dark, solid figures of the people and animals.

George, Jean Craighead.
Snow Bear. Illus. by Wendell Minor. 1999. 32p. Hyperion, $15.99 (0-7868-0456-4).

Preschool-Gr. 2. Snow Bear meets Bessie, a young Eskimo child, on a crag of ice, where they play together under the watchful eyes of Snow Bear's mother and Bessie's brother. Their play abruptly ends when a large male bear appears. Minor's illustrations are brilliant, with muted, bluish green backgrounds serving as the contrasting backdrop for the highly decorated parkas worn by Bessie and her brother.

Harrison, Ted.
A Northern Alphabet. 1989. 32p. Tundra, paper, $7.95 (0-88776-233-6).

K-Gr. 2. "Alex lives in the Arctic. He is wearing an anorak." Each page displays the beginning of a story that children can complete with their own imaginative stories or writing. Names of places that cry out to be located on a map border the illustrations.

London, Jonathan.
Ice Bear and Little Fox. Illus. by Daniel San Souci. 1999. 40p. Dutton, $15.99 (0-525-45907-3).

K-Gr. 3. A polar bear coming-of-age story, London's book follows Nanuq the Ice Bear during his first year on his own. As he searches for food, Little Fox shadows him, hoping to get any leftovers. The two become a pair, braving the cold, dark winter. Then during the summer, Little Fox helps Nanuq by warning him of killer whales and walruses in the water. They are separated when Little Fox goes to find a mate but reunite that winter. San Souci's large, vivid paintings effectively complement the animals' adventures.

Luenn, Nancy.
Nessa's Fish. Illus. by Neil Waldman. 1990. 32p. Aladdin, paper, $5.99 (0-689-81465-8).

Gr. 2-4. Nessa's ingenuity and bravery enable her to scare off the animals threatening the cache of fish that she and her grandmother have caught. Life on the Arctic tundra is brought dramatically to life through Waldman's fluid blues, pinks, and greens. Also see
Nessa's Story (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, 1994).

Martin, Jacqueline Briggs.
The Lamp, the Ice, and the Boat Called Fish. Illus. by Beth Krommes. 2001. 48p. Houghton, $15 (0-618-00341-X).

Gr. 3-5. This epic story recounts the experience of an Inupiaq family who were on board a ship in the Canadian Arctic Expedition that became trapped in the Arctic in 1913. The focus on the Inupiaq's efforts to survive the harrowing adventure provides a fascinating look at how they hunted, constructed clothing, and built shelters. Stunning rounded scratchboard art accompanies this story, which would make an effective readaloud.

Pinkwater, Daniel.
Young Larry. Illus. by Jill Pinkwater. 1997. 32p. Marshall Cavendish, $14.95 (0-7614-5004-1).

Preschool-Gr. 2. Larry is a polar bear living in Baffin Bay in the Arctic. Mother Bear declares he is now old enough to take care of himself. As Larry naps on an ice chunk, wondering how exactly he is going to do that, he floats all the way to New Jersey. Here he becomes a lifeguard, hoping to save money for some of the wonderful muffins once fed to him by Arctic tourists. Those unfamiliar with Pinkwater's work might be skeptical, but he pulls it off, creating a tale that children will find delightfully silly.

San Souci, Robert.
Song of Sedna. Illus. by Daniel San Souci. 1994. 32p. Doubleday, $15.95 (0-385-15866-1); paper, $5.99 (0-440-40948-9).

Gr. 2-5. Sedna, a mighty sea spirit, is the provider of food for her people in this powerful full-color rendition of an Eskimo legend. Another version, now out of print, is Beverly McDermott's
Sedna: An Eskimo Myth (Viking, 1975). Sís, Peter.
A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North. 1993; reissued 2001. 40p. Farrar, $17 (0-374-37075-3); Sunburst, paper, $6.95 (0-374-46725-0).

Gr. 2-4. This unique picture book tells the tale, true or not, of Czech folk hero Jan Wezl, who left his home to travel in the icy Arctic. He survives by adopting the ways of the Eskimos. Softly painted watercolors are combined with pen-and-ink drawings for a distinctive effect.


Atwater, Richard, and Florence Atwater.
Mr. Popper's Penguins. Illus. by Robert Lawson. 1938; reissued 1988. 152p. Little, Brown, $16.95 (0-316-05842-4); paper, $4.95 (0-316-05843-2).

Gr. 3-5. While sure to laugh their way through all the shenanigans that occur when Mr. Popper and his family become host to one, two, and then a whole family of penguins, children will also learn a lot about these formal-looking creatures and their native habitat. An interesting side note is that Atwater died during the writing of
Mr. Popper's Penguins (his only book for children); finished by his wife, Florence, it went on to be named a Newbery Honor Book and is now a perennial favorite with young readers.

George, Jean Craighead.
Julie of the Wolves. 1972; reissued 1995. 170p. HarperCollins, $15.95 (0-06-021943-2); HarperTrophy, paper, $5.95 (0-06-440058-1).

Gr. 5-8. In this Newbery classic, a girl makes friends with wolves in order to survive when she becomes lost on the Alaskan tundra. Julie's fans will also be interested in
Julie (HarperCollins, 1994) and
Julie's Wolf Pack (HarperCollins, 1998).

Houston, James.
Frozen Fire: A Tale of Courage. 1977. 160p. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $16.99 (0-689-50083-1); Aladdin, paper, $4.95 (0-689-71612-5).

Gr. 5-8. Matthew and his friend must surmount incredible odds when they set out to locate Matt's father, who is lost in the Canadian Arctic. The story reveals contemporary Eskimo life in transition, lifting it above the usual survival tale.


Service, Robert.
The Cremation of Sam McGee. 1987. 32p. Greenwillow, $17.95 (0-688-06903-7).

Gr. 1-4. The famous poem of a man who promises to cremate his traveling buddy is strikingly accompanied by bright, heavily outlined paintings.

Sierra, Judy.
Antarctic Antics-A Book of Penguin Poems. Illus. by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey. 1998. 32p. Harcourt, $16 (0-15-201006-8).

Preschool-Gr. 2. Sierra describes the antics of a group of baby penguins in 13 light-hearted, fun poems. Varying in length, some include riddles that kids will enjoy puzzling over. High-spirited illustrations accurately depict the penguins' Antarctic habitat. See also the 2001 Carnegie Medal-winning video based on the book (Scholastic, 2000).


Armstrong, Jennifer.
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World. 1998. 134p. Crown, $18 (0-517-80013-6); Random, paper, $9.95 (0-375-581049-8).

Gr. 7-12. Armstrong dramatically recounts the incredible story of British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1914 Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Shackleton planned on sailing to Antarctica and then crossing it on foot. He and his crew, however, became trapped for 19 months, but amazingly enough, all survived. This book provides details about the day-to-day existence of the crew, archival photos from one of the men, and explanations of scientific principles in operation.

Curlee, Lynn.
Into the Ice-The Story of Arctic Exploration. 1998. 40p. Houghton, $16 (0-395-83013-3).

Gr. 4-6. The history of Arctic exploration from ancient times up to the twentieth century is presented in this handsome book. Curlee discusses different reasons that people have explored the Arctic, from explorers seeking northern passages to people hoping for fame and fortune to those who ended up there by accident on the way to somewhere else. Stark paintings throughout convey the awesome landscape, and a map of the top of the world is included, along with a time line and bibliography.

Dewey, Jennifer Owings.
Antarctic Journal: Four Months at the Bottom of the World. 2001. 64p. HarperCollins, $16.95 (0-06-0285-869).

Gr. 4-6. Dewey recounts her four months spent at Palmer Station, an American scientific study base, on Anvers Island, Antarctica. This very personal account includes sketches, letters home, journal entries, and photographs. Dewey offers thoughtful observations on her surroundings, and readers get a sense of what is being studied, as well as what it is like to live in such a forbidding place.

Ferris, Jeri.
Arctic Explorer: The Story of Matthew Hensen. 1989. 80p. Carolrhoda, paper, $6.95 (0-87614-507-1).

Gr. 3-6. Diary quotes from Hensen, the black man who only recently has been credited with being Robert Peary's codiscoverer of the North Pole, add strength to this gripping account of their six perilous journeys across the frozen north.

Gibbons, Gail.
Penguins. 1998. 32p. Holiday, $16.95 (0-8234-1388-8); paper, $6.95 (0-8234-1516-3).

Preschool-Gr. 3. Gibbons' book provides a great deal of information in a straightforward, appealing style. Pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations nicely show the subtle variations in species, each of which is identified by different feathering. A color-coded map of the Southern Hemisphere shows where each kind of penguin lives. Also included are images of the animals both in the water and on the ice, along with facts about their diet, their predators, and their habits.

Harper, Kenn.
Give Me My Father's Body-The Life of Minik, The New York Eskimo. 2000. 272p. Steerforth, $24 (1-883642-53-1); Simon & Schuster/Washington Square Press, paper, $13.95 (0-743-41005-X).

Gr. 7-12. Originally published in 1986, this book tells the incredible story of Minik, an Eskimo from Greenland brought to New York by Robert Peary in 1897 after his Arctic explorations. Peary returned with six Eskimos, whom he "gave" to the American Museum of Natural History in New York as though they were anthropological artifacts. This is an adult book, but sophisticated students will be fascinated by Minik's story.

Hooper, Meredith.
Antarctic Journal. Illus. by Lucia deLeiris. 2001. 40p. National Geographic, $16.95 (0-7922-7188-2).

Gr. 5-7. This book is another artist-scientist's account of a summer spent at Palmer Station. Hooper illustrates the book with her own sketches and watercolor paintings. The text describes life-forms in the Antarctic (creatures such as krill and giant petrels), discusses how the changing climate is affecting the ecology of the area, and also focuses on such topics as the food web and sea ice.

Kimmel, Elizabeth Cody.
Ice Story. 1999. 128p. Clarion, $18 (0-395-91524-4).

Gr. 4-7. This book presents the story of Ernest Shackleton to a slightly younger audience than that likely to read Armstrong's account, above. Kimmel's narrative very clearly explains the science behind the shipwreck and provides a comprehensive overview of the sequence of events, which is sure to incite further interest. Maps are included, along with extraordinary photographs from the expedition.

Lynch, Wayne.
Arctic Alphabet: Exploring the North from A to Z. 1999. 32p. Firefly, $19.95 (1-55209-334-4).

Gr. 3-5. Though the ABC format is traditionally for younger audiences, here it is simply used as an organizational tool for presenting information on 26 animals, plants, and phenomena associated with the Arctic. Each item is shown in a full-color photograph, accompanied by a half-page description. Topics covered include the northern lights and an animal called the lousewart.

Simon, Seymour.
Icebergs and Glaciers. 1987. 32p. Morrow, $16 (0-688-06186-9); paper, $5.95 (0-688-16705-5).

Gr. 1-3. Tons of information about the tons of ice covering our planet are related through high-quality, full-color photos and a superb text that puts scientific discovery into the hands of young children. Simon also addresses how icebergs may prove useful as a source of fresh water for dry lands, and the question of whether the ice age may return.

Somme, Lauritz, and Sybille Kalas.
The Penguin Family Book. Translated by Patricia Crampton. 1995. 56p. North-South, $8.95 (1-55858-379-3).

Gr. 2-5. Readers are whisked to Bouvet Island in the Antarctic Ocean for a close-up view of the habitat and behavior of a family of chinstrap penguins. Numerous striking photographs enhance the visit as the book follows these intriguing creatures through nesting, care of new chicks, and winter storms that drive them all into the sea.

Steltzer, Ulli.
Building an Igloo. 1995. 32p. Holt, $14.95 (0-8050-3753-5); paper, $6.95 (0-8050-6313-7).

Gr. 4-6. This fascinating step-by-step photo-essay demonstrates the precise art of igloo building. Black-and-white photos show Tookillkee Kiguktak and his son Jopee cutting snow into large blocks with a saw, refining them with a knife, and carefully stacking them into a shelter. Children will be captivated by this concise, appealing title, which includes an essay on Inuit culture.

Swan, Robert.
Destination: Antarctica. Photos by Roger Mear and Rebecca Ward. 1988; reissued 1999. 48p. Scholastic, paper, $5.99 (0-439-08777-5).

Gr. 3-7. Seventy-four years after explorer Robert Scott reached the South Pole, the author and two companions replicated the expedition: "Without the help of animals, machines, or radios, we manhauled food, gear, and supplies over the same route Scott took." The gripping account is enhanced by photographs and a double-page map of their route.

Webb, Sophie.
My Season with Penguins: An Antarctic Journal. 2000. 48p. Houghton, $15 (0-395-92291-7).

Gr. 3-6. Scientist and artist Sophie Webb accompanied American researchers on a trip to study a certain type of penguin in Antarctica, spending a summer watching the animals lay eggs, care for newly born penguins, procure food, and protect their young. Webb includes her own watercolor sketches of the penguins, which effectively depict their physiology, manner of moving, and habits. Her often humorous text includes absorbing details about how scientists go about studying these creatures.

Yue, Charlotte, and David Yue.
The Igloo. 1988. 128p. Houghton, $16 (0-395-44613-9); paper, $7.95 (0-395-62986-1).

Gr. 3-6. Detailed pencil drawings and cross sections accompany this informative text about how to build an igloo, helping readers visualize the steps being described. Also included are details about Eskimo family life, food, clothing, hunting, traveling, and summer shelters. A natural companion for Steltzer's book, above.

Traveling to the Poles

  • Lonely Planet-Antarctica. Written by Jeff Rubin. 2000. 376p. Lonely Planet, paper, $19.99 (0-86442-772-7).
  • Lonely Planet-The Arctic. Written by Deanna Swaney. 1999. 456p. Lonely Planet, paper, $19.95 (0-86442-665-8).

Travel guides are an excellent source for older students researching a particular place. In the Lonely Planet guides on the Arctic and Antarctica, students can learn how to get to these remote places, what the land and climate are like, who lives there, and how to get around. As a classroom activity, have students prepare to mount an expedition to one of the polar regions by mapping out a route, making a list of necessary equipment and useful skills to learn, and determining how long such a trip would take.

Barbara Elleman, founding editor of
Book Links, is now a distinguished scholar of children's literature at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.