Cold Comfort: Polar Places | Focus On

Intrigued by the films March of the Penguins, Arctic Tale, and Happy Feet, students will find plenty of materials to explore about the icy regions that cover our world, both top and bottom. Scientists are paying special attention to these frigid ecosystems during the International Polar Year, which bridges 2007-2008. Both geographic areas experience summers with endless sun and dark, unlit winters. The North Pole rests on the frozen waters of the Arctic Sea, which stretch to North America, Europe, and Asia, with tundra that also supports life. Barren except for research bases, Antarctica is a largely ice- and snow-covered continent complete with volcanoes, mountains, and underground lakes. Student studies of the Arctic and Antarctic might involve habitats, animal life, explorers, and in the case of the northern hemisphere, indigenous people. Learning about the challenges of life in such extreme conditions can inspire youngsters to overcome adversity and perhaps encourage later visits to places now more accessible to travelers. While the reasons for climate changes are debated, the effects of rising temperatures are most apparent beyond 66.5 degrees latitude, north and south. The goal here is to expand classroom discussions on the complex polar problems that affect the Earth. Incorporating fiction and nonfiction titles, this list addresses the Arctic and Antarctica in separate sections. Choosing from the abundance of books on the hugely popular penguin was as daunting as finding current titles about the native peoples of the Far North. Whether statistics or stories engage students, a journey to the coldest places on the planet is warmly rewarding when it begins with a book.

Arctic Fiction

BANIA, Michael. Kumak’s Fish: A Tale from the Far North. illus. by author. Alaska Northwest. 2004. Tr $15.95. ISBN 978-0-88240-583-4; pap. $8.95. ISBN 978-0-88240-584-1. K-Gr 3–When Kumak snares a big catch with Uncle Aglu’s “hooking stick,” it takes the whole village to save him and haul in a feast. Based on the Inupiat traditions of cooperation and respect for elders, this delightful tale also looks at time-honored ice-fishing methods. Discussions on working together or fabulous fish stories can all begin here. CRAWFORD, Laura. In Arctic Waters. illus. by Ben Hodson. Sylvan Dell. 2007. Tr $15.95. ISBN 978-0-9768823-4-3; pap. $8.95. ISBN 978-1-934359-34-1. K-Gr 3–Beluga whale, narwhal, walrus, seal, and polar bear come together around an ice floe in this cumulative verse that introduces Arctic mammals. When man, the ultimate predator, arrives, they all dive to safety in the chill waters. Five pages of facts and teaching suggestions demonstrate easy ways to expand the story. Colorful cartoon illustrations invite readers above and below the surface. GRINDLEY, Sally. Polar Skater. illus. by Heli Hieta. Lobster. 2004. Tr $15.95. ISBN 978-1-894222-88-4. K-Gr 3–A new pair of skates and imagination propel a young girl into a fantasy realm where she encounters Arctic hares, snow geese, polar bears, skuas, narwhals, seals, walrus, white wolves, musk ox, plus beluga and bowhead whales. Soft, dreamy spreads and verse as smooth as ice will have youngsters gliding along, too. An effective, subtle way to introduce Arctic animals. JOOSSE, Barbara M. Mama, Do You Love Me? illus. by Barbara Lavallee. Chronicle. 1991. Tr $15.95. ISBN 978-0-87701-759-2; pap. $6.95. ISBN 978-0-8118-2131-5. K-Gr 3–Glimpses of Alaskan Inuit life are gently folded into this warm story of unconditional love told with carefully authentic, expressive watercolor illustrations. Comparisons with puffins and umiaks (skin boats) help reassure a questioning child that dropped ptarmigan eggs will be forgiven. Explanatory notes make it easy to teach about an Arctic culture that is reassuringly familiar when it comes to mother-daughter relationships. NAPOLI, Donna Jo.North. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. 2004. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-057987-6; PLB $17.89. ISBN 978-0-06-057988-3; pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-0-06-057989-0. Gr 5-8–When overprotected Alvin takes his savings and runs away in the January cold to follow in the footsteps of his hero Matthew Henson, he embarks on a life-changing journey. New Inuit friends teach the Washington, DC, sixth grader the skills he’ll need to survive several months on Bylot Island, located above the Arctic Circle. A great read-aloud for science and social-studies units. Audiobook version available from Recorded Books. TAYLOR, Theodore. Ice Drift. Harcourt. 2005. Tr $16. ISBN 978-0-15-205081-8; pap. $5.95. ISBN 978-0-15-205550-9. Gr 3-7–Marooned on an ice floe in 1868, Inuit brothers Alika, 14, and Sulu, 10, endure six months of blizzards, hunger, and marauding polar bears as they float through the Greenland Strait. The only help they have is their dog and the survival skills of their people. Short chapters are interspersed with brief facts that extend readers’ understanding of the Arctic.


FALCONER, Shelley & Shawna White. Stones, Bones and Stitches: Storytelling Through Inuit Art. Tundra. 2007. Tr $22.95. ISBN 978-0-88776-854-5. Gr 4-8–Profiles of six Inuit artists chronicle their innovative use of traditional materials, techniques, and designs while also probing their struggles and triumphs. Artwork is shown in full color while the artists and their creative processes are depicted in black-and-white photos. Detailed background information completes the picture. An inspiring springboard for Arctic-related art projects. FLOWERS, Pam. Alone Across the Arctic: One Woman’s Epic Journey by Dog Team. Alaska Northwest. 2001. Tr $22.95. ISBN 978-0-88240-547-6; pap. $15.95. ISBN 978-0-88240-539-1. Gr 5-8–Diary entries present feelings, fears, and, finally, the achievement of a determined woman and her dogs through a partnership that brings all of them back safely. Detailed sidebars explain how to defog a tent, camp in a blizzard, and what to eat on a 2,500-mile sledding trip along Canada’s northern coast. Use Flowers’s trail map and supply list to generate geography and math lessons. HEUER, Karsten. Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with a Caribou Herd. photos by author. Walker. 2007. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-0-8027-9565-6; RTE $18.85. ISBN 978-0-8027-9566-3. Gr 4 Up–Preyed on by bears and wolves, and tormented by mosquitoes and flies, more than 100,000 caribou cross mountains, rivers, and grassy tundra each year. Highlighting threats to the animals’ route, a husband-and-wife team follows the herd to their spring calving grounds in Alaska. This transforming experience is recounted in spare, accessible prose and accented by full-color photos. JOHNSON, Dolores. Onward: A Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson. National Geographic. 2005. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-0-7922-7914-3; PLB $27.90. ISBN 978-0-7922-7915-0. Gr 4-8–During their 23-year quest to reach the North Pole, Matthew Henson and Robert Peary forged a collaboration that ignored race and included the Greenland Inuit. Henson weathered the Arctic challenges, but back in the United States, he and Peary parted company, and Henson received little recognition. Potential social-studies lessons abound in this well-documented, photo-rich title. KIRKPATRICK, Katherine. The Snow Baby: The Arctic Childhood of Admiral Robert E. Peary’s Daring Daughter. Holiday House. 2007. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8234-1973-9. Gr 4-8–Utilizing a wealth of primary sources and family photos, this biography follows Peary’s journeys to the North Pole through the life of his daughter, Marie. Born at an expedition outpost in Greenland and called “Snow Baby” by the Inuit people who befriended the family, the explorer’s first child and her mother made several return trips, spending one winter caught in the ice. LOURIE, Peter. Arctic Thaw: The People of the Whale in a Changing Climate. photos by author. Boyds Mills. 2007. RTE $17.95. ISBN 978-1-59078-436-5. Gr 4-8–Concerns about climate change are discussed in the context of three seasons on Alaska’s North Slope among the Inupiat people. Based on the author’s experiences and written in first person, the book links whale-hunting traditions with the shrinking of Arctic Sea ice. Working together, researchers and local residents integrate computer data with the wisdom of centuries. This mix of science and social studies also considers humanity’s global interdependence. LYNCH, Wayne. The Arctic. photos by author. NorthWord. 2007. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-1-55971-960-5; pap. $8.95. ISBN 978-1-55971-961-2. Gr 3-6–With his lens trained on animals and plants, this writer/photographer presents the High, Low, and Oceanic Arctic. Full spreads combine clear, concise information, personal memories, and short but significant facts about a place the author has studied for 25 years. Great for browsing or suggesting report topics, this title has excellent close-up photos. MARTIN, Jacqueline Briggs. The Lamp, the Ice, and the Boat Called Fish: Based on a True Story. illus. by Beth Krommes. Houghton. 2001. Tr $15. ISBN 978-0-618-00341-9; pap. $6.95. ISBN 978-0-618-54895-8. Gr 3-6–Trapped on an icebound exploration ship, and later on a remote island, two Inupiaq sisters, their parents, and 15 others spent more than a year struggling to get home. Poetic prose combines fact and speculation on how they overcame harsh weather and near starvation. Scratchboard illustrations in neutral shades recall the barren landscape, while three black-and-white photos of survivors enhance authenticity. An intriguing read-aloud. REVKIN, Andrew C. The North Pole Was Here: Puzzles and Perils at the Top of the World. Kingfisher. 2006. Tr $15.95. ISBN 978-0-7534-5993-5. Gr 6-9–Extensive illustrations and engaging text bring readers along on this New York Times reporter’s assignment at the North Pole. Tales about keeping himself and his computer warm, as well as accounts of earlier explorers, expand the discussion of global warming–the focus of the scientific team Revkin accompanied. ROSING, Norbert with Elizabeth Carney. Face to Face with Polar Bears. photos by Norbert Rosing. National Geographic. 2007. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-1-4263-0139-1. Gr 3-6–Engaging images and personal experiences introduce the polar bear with cautions about the melting ice in the carnivore’s habitat. Sidebars and two pages of end notes complement the friendly, factual text. This series title includes suggestions on how to curb global warming, as well as how to become a wildlife photographer. SPINELLI, Elaine. Polar Bear, Arctic Hare: Poems of the Frozen North. illus. by Eugenie Fernandes. Boyds Mills/WordSong. 2007. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-1-59078-344-3. K-Gr 3–Two dozen short, rhythmic poems celebrate Arctic flora, fauna, and natural phenomena on appealing double-page acrylic paintings. From polar bears to poppies, bumblebees to belugas, these poems usher youngsters into the diverse world of the Far North. Three pages of notes add brief details on each species. A great introduction for across-the-curriculum lessons.

Antarctic Fiction

FROMENTAL, Jean-Luc.365 Penguins. tr. from French. illus. by Joëlle Jolivet. Abrams. 2006. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-0-8109-4460-2. K-Gr 3–Problems, comical and mathematical, arise when penguins arrive daily and no one knows why. This humorous, oversized book uses the burgeoning bird population to create a few multiplication problems, but concentrates on their endless arrival. Uncle Victor, an ecologist, finally comes to haul his penguins away. Light on facts, but full of fun, this story has potential for many more math applications. L’ENGLE, Madeleine. Troubling a Star. Farrar. 1994. Tr $19. ISBN 978-0-374-37783-0. Gr 4-8–Trapped on an iceberg, 16-year-old Vicky Austin flashes back to the struggles over the exploitation of Antarctica that have put her in such a predicament. She also vividly recalls the wonders of wildlife and habitats she’s seen. A mystery/adventure with a bit of romance, the novel also touches on ecology and politics. An effective lead-in for a discussion of the international treaty that governs the continent. MCKERNAN, Victoria. Shackleton’s Stowaway. Knopf. 2005. Tr $15.95. ISBN 978-0-375-82691-7; PLB $17.99. ISBN 978-0-375-92691-4; pap. $5.99. ISBN 978-0-440-41984-6. Gr 5-8–An act of bravado becomes a test of bravery when Perce Blackborow stows away on the 1914 expedition to cross Antarctica. This novel, based on one of the most compelling polar survival stories and seen through the eyes of its youngest crewman, stays true to the facts. Diary entries based on extensive research with informative appendixes make excellent writing prompts. STAMPER, Judith Bauer. Penguin Puzzle. illus. by Ted Enik. Scholastic. 2001. pap. $4.99. ISBN 978-0-439-20422-4. Gr 3-5–Facts and jokes add to the fun of a transforming trip for Ms. Frizzle’s class as it heads to the bottom of the world. The Friz isn’t flummoxed when the kids turn into the local black-and-white inhabitants, and she makes everything right in a pleasantly predictable ending. Create classroom skits with this fact-filled story.


ARMSTRONG, Jennifer. Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance. Crown. 1998. Tr $18. ISBN 978-0-517-80013-3. Gr 5-8–Shackleton’s crew of 28 believed his mix of humor and hard work saved them all from certain death. Detailed research is shaped into a flowing narrative that recounts sailing on the Antarctica-bound ship, tenting on the frozen sea, rowing lifeboats in treacherous water, and, finally, being rescued from a windswept island. Original expedition photos, maps, and diagrams of the ship expand the fascinating text. ARNOLD, Caroline. A Penguin’s World. illus. by author. Picture Window. 2005. PLB $23.93. ISBN 978-1-4048-1323-6. Gr 1-3–The first year of life for two Adelie penguins is told in narrative style with useful facts inserted in text boxes. Appealing, cut-paper illustrations spread across the pages, and end notes contain detailed information. Use this to compare life cycles of other animals or to introduce Antarctica to primary-grade students. BREDESON,Carmen. After the Last Dog Died: The True-Life, Hair-Raising Adventure of Douglas Mawson and His 1911-1914 Antarctic Expedition. National Geographic. 2003. Tr $18.95. ISBN 978-0-7922-6140-7. Gr 4-8–Lesser known than other explorers in this region, Mawson trekked in solitude to complete a harrowing 659-mile journey after his two companions and all his dogs died. Poisoned by the food that kept him alive, the Australian geologist reached base camp to find his rescue ship had just sailed, leaving him with six others for another winter. An early advocate to save the whales, Mawson can be introduced in ecology units. BLEDSOE, Lucy Jane. How to Survive in Antarctica. photos by author. Holiday House. 2006. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8234-1890-9. Gr 4-8–An experienced Antarctica visitor offers practical suggestions, personal recollections, and pertinent facts to excite readers about the Far South. The friendly text is divided into short chapters with frequent sidebars offering historical information and interesting details. Use this invitation to future explorers to help spawn research projects. DAIGLE, Evelyne. The World of Penguins. tr. from French by Geneviève Wright. illus. by Daniel Grenier. Tundra. 2007. Tr $18.95. ISBN 978-0-88776-799-9. Gr 3-7-Organized into brief, easy-to-research sections with extensive illustrations, this oversize title can be read for fun, too. It introduces all 17 species of penguins, but focuses on 6 types seen by the author during a trip to Antarctica, then adds a look at Galápagos penguins. Two pages each on exploration and climate broaden the topic. Use the double-page penguin species line-up for comparing and contrasting. DEWEY, Jennifer Owings. Antarctic Journal: Four Months at the Bottom of the World. HarperCollins. 2001. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-028586-9; PLB $17.89. ISBN 978-0-06-028587-6. Gr 3-6–Short letters and diary entries, illustrated with both photos and drawings, present the wide range of animal life, as well as ice, rock, and water landscapes on the Antarctic Peninsula. Living at Palmer Station, the author also shares insights about life at this remote research outpost and the work of visiting scientists. Students might choose one day’s entry to research more deeply. FOSTER, Leila Merrell. Antarctica. Heinemann Library. 2006. PLB $25.36. ISBN 978-1-4034-8540-3. Gr 1-3-Photos enhance simple descriptions of animals, plants, explorers, and the topography of the southernmost continent. A list of record breakers reveals the extremes of temperature, wind, and precipitation, and there’s even a reference to the treaty that governs Antarctica. Ice sheets, mountains, seas, scientific stations, and the South Pole are shown on separate maps, making this title helpful for reports. MASTRO, Jim & Norbert Wu. Antarctic Ice. photos by Norbert Wu. Holt. 2003. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8050-6517-6. Gr 3-6-Life thrives above and below the ice sheets of the Antarctic continent. Photos show unexpected species such as sea stars, jellyfish, and sea spiders, as well as the ever popular penguins, orcas, and seals. Set against black backgrounds, close-up and action shots will draw eager viewers, and the inviting narrative text will encourage further study. THOMPSON, Gare. Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott Race to the South Pole. National Geographic. 2007. PLB $17.90. ISBN 978-1-4263-0187-2. Gr 2-4-With a simple, well-documented look at two men whose treks to the bottom of the world brought one fame and the other death, this rare dual account of their parallel journeys describes how planning and weather conditions led to Amundsen’s victory and Scott’s disaster. Black-and-white photos from both expeditions appear throughout, and the presentation concludes with a brief look at Antarctica today.

Resources for Teachers

ARCUS. Arctic Research Consortium of the United States. Fairbanks, Alaska. (Accessed 11/25/07) More than 150 hot links connect to an international array of Web sites on social studies and science topics related to Arctic research and concerns. Many also include Antarctica. PRISM: Polar Radar for Ice Sheet Management. University of Kansas Center for Research in Lawrence, Kansas. (Accessed 11/25/07) Resources for teachers and students on both polar regions include K-12 lesson plans covering history, geography, meteorology, and archeology. Recent video clips, archived weather data, and opportunities to address global concerns are all in the mix.

For Students

Alaska Native Heritage Center. Alaska Native Heritage Center. Anchorage, Alaska. (Accessed 11/25/07) Gr 4 Up–Alaskan arts and cultures, both traditional and present day, are spotlighted. The “Learn” page provides information on specific native groups and provides links to additional organizations and sources. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Fairbanks, Alaska. (Accessed 11/25/07) Gr 4 Up– The Refuge’s mammals, fish, and birds are listed, many with links to maps, pictures, and detailed information useful for reports. In addition, the “For Educators” page offers three student activities with supporting material. Australian Antarctica Division. Australian Government. Department of the Environment and Water Sources. Australian Antarctic Division. (Accessed 11/25/07) Gr 4 Up–In-depth, accessible information abounds at the site’s “A-Z” button. Great variety too, with webcams, classroom activities, and educator links. New England Aquarium Penguin Pages. New England Aquarium. Central Wharf, Boston, MA (Accessed 11/25/07) Gr 3 Up–Students can read about environmental threats, watch the aquarium’s webcam, or view close-up photos of baby penguins. Complete profiles of all 17 penguin species include location maps. Downloadable teacher resources also provided.


By Phyllis Levy Mandell Antarctic Antics. video or DVD. 18 min. with tchr’s. guide. Weston Woods ( 2000. video, ISBN 978-7882-0752-5: $60; DVD, ISBN 978-1-55592-597-0: $59.95. PreS-Gr 4–Judy Sierra’s delightful book of penguin poetry (Gulliver Books, 1998) receives royal treatment in this exceptional production. Wonderful poems teach about emperor penguins and Antarctica, and the illustrations by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey are cleverly animated. The entire production is turned into a musical extravaganza, with each poem set to original music. Not to be missed is “Be My Penguin,” turned into a 1950s-style love song. Endurance. DVD. 97 min. Prod. by Sony Pictures. Dist. by Library Video Co. ( 2003. $19.95. Gr 7 Up–Narrated by Liam Neeson, this documentary about Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1916 expedition to Antarctica aboard the Endurance is a tale of heroism and survival. It features on-location footage, archival audio, original photos by Frank Hurley, and crew members’ journal entries. The film is based on the book (Knopf, 1999) by Caroline Alexander. Polar Expeditions. video. 52 min. (closed captioned). with tchr’s. guide. Discovery School ( 2003. ISBN 1-58738-431-0. $59.95. Gr 6-8–This poignant production, featuring fantastic archival footage, captivating visuals, and excellent narration, espouses the achievements of polar explorers such as Robert Peary, Frederic Cook, Robert Scott, and Roald Amundsen while exploring their motivation. Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure (NOVA Series). DVD. 40 min. (closed captioned). Image Entertainment ( 2002. $19.99. Gr 7 Up–This documentary, narrated by Kevin Spacey, recounts Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1916 expedition to Antarctica. It presents the story of the 28 men who survived on a mound of ice in the middle of the Weddell Sea for two years after their ship was destroyed. Featuring re-enactments and on-location footage, the film also includes original still photos and motion-picture footage taken by Frank Hurley, the official photographer of the expedition.

Barbara Wysocki is a Children’s and Young Adult Librarian at the Cora J. Belden Library, Rocky Hill, CT. 

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