Polar Play

posted in: Piers Harper | 11

cotoneaster_with_ice_border_fesojThis winter we’ve had plenty of frosts and some snow and the wintry conditions have brought all our books with penguins or polar bears to the surface on our jammed -to-overfilling bookshelves and one that was once a favourite of M’s has now become a daily read for J.

Snow Bear by Piers Harper tells a simple story of growing up. A young polar bear ventures out of his den to investigate the exciting world around him. He has so much fun playing in the snow and then in the water that he loses track of time and finds himself lost. With the help of a friendly reindeer and a young Inuit girl the snow bear is eventually reunited with his mother:

“I found out that there are lots of fun things to do, and lots of exciting places… but being home with you is the very best place of all.”

The story is familiar and comforting, and the illustrations at least in the board book version we have are fun for J as the fur in various animals is picked out and printed with a material which is soft to touch.

I imagine the book has been such a hit with my two girls as there is a reasonable dose of adventure and exploration coupled up with the reassurance that Mum and cuddles will always be there at the end of the day. That said, this is one of those books that just doesn’t do it for me. I read it because the girls love it, but otherwise I would have been happy had it remained buried at the back of the bookcase.


The story isn’t told with any originality, magic or poetry – maybe that’s in some sense why it works – there is nothing offensive or challenging about it. The illustrations are cute but not the sort of images I would want to look at every day for inspiration or solace. I’m glad I have the book as the girls clearly get something from it, but it is not a book I would give as a gift or particularly recommend, but if you found it in the library maybe your kids would enjoy it as much as mine.

All that said, the activity that was inspired from the (many) readings of this book was a lot of fun and definitely one I would recommend you try out!

1. The night before we did this activity I froze water in several different sized containers in our freezer. To some containers I added some food colouring to create coloured blocks of ice, but this seemed to effect the freezing point of the water and several of these blocks were not completely frozen after 24 hours in the freezer.

2. The next day we covered the table with some old towels (and had a couple more to hand in case of accidents) and on to the table I placed a container with some water and blue food colouring to mirror the description given of the polar sea in Snow Bear. We emptied out the frozen blocks of ice from the freezer and added them to the water to create icebergs.

ice4 3. We rounded up all the various polar animals we could find in our toy boxes (yes, this meant that polar bears were found next to penguins and we mixed up our arctic and antarctic animals, but this was about playing with imagination, not scientific accuracy ;-)) and let them play havoc on the bergs.


4. With the use of some salt to help stick the various ice cubes and blocks together M made some ice sculptures whilst J had a whale of a time throwing the animals into the water and creating the biggest splashes she could (the towels were very useful at this point!)




snow_bear_frontcoverSnow Bear: ** (2 stars) if my daughters were voting, * (1 star), if it were only up to me.

Music to go with this activity could include:

  • Polar Bear Hug by by James Casto and Fran Snyder
  • The Polar Bear Blues by Granny Green’s Green Machine
  • Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! sung here by Ella Fitzgerald (regular readers will have worked out by now that I quite like Ella!)
  • Making an icy landscape is something wintry one can do with the kids even if it isn’t snowy outside. Here are some other wintry activities you could try in warmer climes:

  • Freeze loads of icecubes and try to build an igloo with them – use a little salt to help the icecubes stick to each other.
  • Cut snowflakes out of paper, or use doilies as snowflakes stuck to windows.
  • Have an indoor snowball fight, substituting marshmallows for snowballs (keep some marshmallows back if you don’t want your kids eating those that have been on the floor!), or perhaps white balloons. Alternatively provide your kids with a load of white or silver tissue paper and get them to scrunch it up into balls, which you can then throw around to your heart’s content knowing that they won’t break anything.
  • Let the kids turn you into a snowman – give them a hat and scarf and a loo roll or two and get them to wrap you up in it! (What could be better than tying up mum or dad?!)
  • Make a snowy picture with shaving foam – mix approximately equal amounts of shaving cream and glue in a plastic container, then use a paintbrush to paint this mixture onto card or construction paper – when the picture has dried the paint should be puffy just snow!
  • Make a roaring fire and have hot chocolate (or mulled wine!) around it with a good story or two.
  • Make an edible mountain of snow a.k.a. baked Alaska
  • Some of the ideas above came from the Yahoo Group Kids Activities – click here if you’d like to to find out more or sign up.

    (Almost) finally, there is a short but sweet list of non-fiction books for kids about arctic life available at Open Wide Look Inside, a blog which “is about throwing open the pages of books and using them to motivate and excite kids about learning math, science and social studies.” – definitely worth a visit! And then there’s a great long list of winter snow books at Through The Looking Glass Children’s Book Reviews, where I’ve found quite a few new books I now want to get!

    If you’ve got any great polar bear book suggestions, or wintry indoor activities please let us know! Also, here’s your chance to moan about the books you can’t bear but which your children just adore…. ๐Ÿ™‚

    11 Responses

    1. Andi

      It’s not a polar bear book, but on the snow theme my kindergarteners always loved “Snow Family” by Daniel Kirk. It’s fun to read because of the rhyme and all the sound effects and the kids love to join in the reading and ask for it to be read again and again.

    2. Kristine

      We too have been playing with ice and containers of water but ours is too escape from our 40 + temperatures.

      My oldest has loved some absolutely dreadful books. One of the worst was “Old Mother Hubbard” She use to find it hysterical when she was about 18m. I use to hide it but it wasn’t forgotton. I also use to skip large sections. The worst thing was it had this rhyming pattern but would then attempt to rhyme words that don’t rhyme (lilke coffin and laughen.
      One page went something like “Old Mother Hubbard went to the carpenters to buy her poor dog a coffin. But when she got back the dog was a laughen.”
      Absolutely dreadful.

    3. Zoe

      Hi Tricia and Andi – Thanks for the tips ๐Ÿ™‚ I shall check them out.
      I have another winter themed post with even more book suggestions coming next week.
      Hi Kristine….(ummm – I was trying to think of a corny rhyme to come next but I clearly need my coffee first before my brain will kick in to action!) Are you going to keep the book hidden from your youngest ๐Ÿ˜‰ !? I was thinking of you in your heat when I wrote this post – hopefully the pretend winter activities will help keep you cool.

    4. Sarah N.

      My girls would love to gather up our arctic and antarctic animals and let them play on ice bergs. Almost any form of playing with water goes over big here. I’m sure my 6yo would love to try to build and ice cube igloo. Thanks for the ideas.

    5. Kellyi

      I know what you mean about this book. It’s OK but a bit…flat.

      Why do kids get so hung up on one book? At the moment my DS is obsessed with one page of a Polly Dunbar book (“Pretty Pru” if you are interested in checking it out) of a pig with mascara on. He can still laugh at it, and we’ve had to go back and get it from the library because he missed it so much!

    6. Julie

      Great ideas! I love the icebergs in the water tub, and my daughter’s school theme next week is igloos so I may have to try making an igloo with ice cubes!

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