November 30, 2016


It's pretty obvious why Jenni Desmond's The Polar Bear is one of 2016's New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books. It's impeccably illustrated, and as someone who admittedly reads very little nonfiction, I was totally and completely riveted from start to finish.

The Polar Bear is the second picture book in Desmond's nonfiction series about animals, the first of which is about blue whales. A little girl pulls a book about polar bears off a shelf, drawing us into the life of a polar bear. We travel along with the girl as the narrator tells us about polar bears' habitats, eating habits, and body structure. Readers read about polar bears in an accessible way that puts the facts they learn into perspective, like polar bear paws feel like the surface of a basketball, and one polar bear is roughly the same weight as 20 seven year old children.

There's also something very touching about the fact that the Author's Note is in the front. Aside from the endpapers, it's the first thing readers see, and it explains the plight of the polar bear as a threatened species. It really drives home the beauty readers are about to experience as they flip the page and start the story. Desmond is brilliant to show the little girl dancing through the book with her own copy of the same book: it encourages a playfulness when learning about a new animal. At the same time, the book doesn't shy away from some of the darker aspects of a polar bear's life, either. We see the polar bear rolling on the snow post-dinner with its muzzle and paws covered in spots of blood, and we see two polar bears fight over a female mate. Desmond doesn't sugar-coat, and it's that level of authenticity that makes the book 
It's a beautiful book that is that I look forward to the third book in the series about elephants!

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