The Center for Children's Books


Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Journeys to the Polar Regions- April 2009

Selected and annotated by Tina Ladika


Barton, Bob. The Bear Says North : Tales from Northern Lands. Groundwood Books, 2003. (71 p.) Gr. 3-6.
This illustrated work is a compilation of 10 short folktales from the Arctic regions of Scandinavia , Russia , and Canada . Several stories, such as “Reindeer Herder and the Moon” and “The Little Girl Who Wanted the Northern Lights,” demonstrate the meaningfulness of the natural environment to the local peoples.

Doyle, Roddy. Wilderness. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2007. (211 p.) Gr. 6-9.
In this quick-paced read, two Irish brothers, 12-year-old Johnny and 10-year-old Tom, go with their mother on a dogsledding vacation to northern Finland . Their action-filled experiences in the threatening outdoors are intertwined with chapters focusing on their angsty teenage half-sister Grainne who remains in Dublin to reunite with her birth mother. Part-adventure story and part-family drama, the three siblings’ family bonds strengthen during their time apart.

Fardell, John. The 7 Professors of the Far North. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2005. (217 p.) Gr. 4-6.
Eleven-year-old Sam is in for the ride of his life when he meets siblings Ben, Zara, and their great-uncle during his week-long stay in Aberdeen. After an evil professor named Murdo kidnaps the great-uncle and his five colleagues and takes them to the Arctic, the three children must save the day by venturing across Europe to the icy north. This whimsical and fast-paced debut novel contains a blend of humor, mystery, and adventure.

Guiberson, Brenda Z. Ice Bears. Henry Holt, 2008. (unpaged) 5-9 yrs.
Watercolor paintings and straightforward narration depicts a year in the life of a mother polar bear and her two cubs. Though the focus on the bears’ hunting, hiding from predators, swimming, and other survival behaviors is commonplace in animal nonfiction, the consistent references to the warming Arctic temperatures and their harmful effects on the bears and other wildlife strikes a serious chord about the dangers of global warming. Concluding on a more hopeful note, an “Arctic Ice Report” at the end provides practical tips on supporting the Arctic ecosystem and a list of several environmental websites is provided.

Johnson, Dolores. Onward: a Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson. National Geographic, 2006. (64 p.) Gr. 4-8.
Rich with haunting photographs, excerpts from journals, and other primary sources, this biography chronicles the historically overlooked contributions of Matthew Henson, the generally acknowledged first human to reach the North Pole. Beginning with Henson’s working class roots, Dolores sketches his pursuit of being an explorer in the face of racism and professional relationship with Robert Peary through their many life-threatening attempts to conquer the hostile Arctic . A chronology showing highlights from Henson’s life and list of print and electronic resources is provided at the end.

 Lerangis, Peter. Smiler’s Bones. Scholastic Press, 2005. (147 p.) Gr. 7 and up.
In 1987 at the age of seven, an Inuit boy named Minik and five other Eskimos, including his father, are taken by explorer Robert Peary from their native Greenland to serve as living exhibitions at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Illness soon takes four of the Eskimos’ lives and one returns to Greenland, leaving Minik as the only Inuit in New York City. This emotional journey traces Minik’s joys and hardships as the struggles between two cultures, leading to his shocking revelation as a teenager about the truth behind the museum’s exhibitions. Based on true events, this is a good read to pair alongside non-fiction reading on Robert Peary’s expeditions to the Arctic.

Mastro, Jim and Wu, Norbert. Antarctic Ice. Holt, 2003. (unpaged) Gr. 3-5.
Dazzling photography is used to show how plants and animals in Antarctica adapt to the seasons throughout the course of the year. From the giant Orca whale to microscopic phytoplankton, the book emphasizes the interconnectedness between the behaviors of the Antarctic creatures and the surrounding ice. Numerous close-ups and shots under the ice make the details of this hidden wildlife accessible. Also see Cerullo’s 2003 Life Under Ice.

McCaughrean, Geraldine. The White Darkness. HarperTempest, 2007. (373 p.) Gr. 7-12.
Sym is a socially insecure 14-year-old British girl whose main interests are Antarctica and her imaginary companion and crush on Captain Lawrence “Titus” Oates, an explorer who died on a historic expedition to the South Pole. When her eccentric Uncle Victor plans a surprise tourist vacation for the two of them to Antarctica, Sym naturally feels excited. Their trip however takes a creepy turn when her uncle’s mad obsession unravels, leading Sym and some of the other tourists to battle survival amidst the beautiful but hostile landscape. Winner of the 2008 Michael L. Printz award.

McKernan, Victoria. Shakleton’s Stowaway. Knopf, 2005. (314 p.) Gr. 6-10.
Based on Ernest Shackleton’s infamous Endurance voyage of 1914, this fictional telling recalls the journey through the eyes of 18-year-old Perce Blackborrow (including his journal entries), the youngest member of the crew. With a youthful thirst for adventure, Blackborrow sneaks and hides onto the Endurance and is only discovered days later when the ship is past a worthwhile turning point. When the voyage takes a horrific turn months later, leaving the Endurance trapped in the Antarctic ice, Blackborrow and the crew must battle freezing temperatures, hunger, and illness in one of the most gripping chapters of human survival in history. A detailed timeline, profile of crewmembers, and lists of sources and further reading are provided at the end.

Orenstein, Denise Gosliner. Unseen Companion. Katherine Tegen Books, 2003. (357 p.) Gr. 9 and up.
Set in the small tundra town of Berthel, Alaska during the late 1960’s, this contemplative story follows the connections between four teenage strangers and Dove Alexie, a 16-year-old mixed-race prisoner who has mysteriously vanishes from jail where he was abused. Despite their different interests, family, and ethnic backgrounds, all four characters share a determination to search for the truth behind Dove’s disappearance. Gosliner uses alternating first-person narratives among the four teenagers to intertwine their individual stories in this multi-faceted story.

Pattou, Edith. East. Harcourt, 2003. (498 p.) Gr. 7-12.
In this lyrical adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast” and “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” a superstitious mother believes that her children’s birth directions will determine their personality and fate. When her youngest daughter Rose is born facing North, which indicates an adventurous wanderer who will seek dangerous paths, her mother represses Rose’s identity in favor of the safer East. But when 15-year –old Rose’s family becomes stricken with poverty and her sister’s illness, a mysterious white bear shows up requesting Rose in exchange for her family’s wealth and health. True to her North-self, Rose leaves Norway for a magical adventure to the icy Arctic in which she learns the bear’s identity and discovers true love.

Pullman, Philip. Once Upon a Time in the Far North. Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. (104 p.) Gr. 7-10.
In this prequel to the His Dark Materials series, Lee Scoresby lands his cargo balloon on the Arctic island of Novy Odense to seek work. With the locals in the midst of mayor elections, Scoresby suspects and quickly becomes involved with a political conspiracy that may regard the soon-to-be elected mayor Ivan Poliakov, the Larsen Manganese mining company, the hitman Pierre McConville, and the local armed white bears. Filled with humor and action, this prequel will provide background information and insights to fans of Pullmans’ series.

Smelcer, John. The Trap. Henry Holt and Co., 2006. (170 p.) Gr. 6-10.
On a trip to the Alaskan north, the old Albert’s leg becomes caught in one of his trap, leaving him to battle the freezing temperatures and other threats of the wilderness alone. Meanwhile, his 17-year-old grandson Johnny senses something is wrong and questions whether he should leave the village to search for his grandfather. With chapter’s alternating between Albert and Johnnys’ perspectives, this is both a survival story and quiet reflection on the old vs. new generations of Native Americans in northern Alaska (Smelcer himself is of Athabaskan Indian descent).

Taylor, Theodore. Ice Drift. Harcourt, 2004. (224 p.) Gr. 5-8.
The crash of a giant iceberg leaves 14-year-old Alika and his younger brother Sulu adrift an ice floe down Arctic waters to the Greenland Strait. For the next six months, the two brothers must rely on their sled dog Jamka’s scent and their knowledge of the Inuit’s survival skills to brave hunger, sickness, and even a polar bear attack. Inspired by the true experiences of passengers aboard the 1871 ship Polaris, this is an adventure story about human courage and strength in the face of danger.

Torrey, Michele. Voyage of Ice: Chronicles of Courage. Knopf, 2004. (197 p.) Gr. 5-9.
The first in the Chronicles of Courage series, Nick and Dexter, two teenage brothers living in Massachusetts during the 1850s, sign a whaling contract and begin working for Captain Thorndike. The younger Nick’s romantic notions of whaling soon end after encountering gruesome conditions and harsh treatment from the Thorndike. Before he has a chance to quit, the crew is shipwrecked in the Arctic where Nick, Dexter, and the captain’s daughter Elizabeth must fight for survival in the face of the cold, animal predators, troublesome crew members and just about every other imaginable threat. Brimming with realism, this adventure story also features a blossoming romance between Nick and Elizabeth. An extensive glossary of sea terms and lengthy bibliography provide further background information.

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