Snowy dreams and nightmares

posted in: Holly Webb, Piers Harper | 9

There are not many books which give me nightmares but Snow Bear by Piers Harper is one. It was a favourite of both girls when they were toddlers, even though I couldn’t stand the sight of it (you can read more in my review here). But months, even years, after I last read that book, it recently came back to haunt me with a vengeance.

Piers Harper’s Snow Bear is about a young polar bear who has lost his mum. A young Inuit girl helps to reunite mother and cub and all live happily ever after.

Photo: ucumari


Snow. Being lost and then reunited. Cuddly animals. All good. At least for my kids.

But can you imagine that sinking feeling in my stomach when last month a new book arrived for review, a book about a polar bear cub who has lost his mother, but who is reunited with her thanks to a young girl?

Not only that, it too is called The Snow Bear and it’s by an author I associated (without every previously having read anything by her) with soppy, girly stories full of fluff and nonsense?

Uh-uh. No Way. Hide it to the back of the cupboard. Give it away to some unsuspecting soul.

I was not going to go through another round of polar bear hell.

But then the twinkling stars conspired against me. M needed a new book to read (when J has ballet lessons on a Saturday morning we have a little routine going whereby I wrap up a new-to-M book/comic and give it to M to read – a Saturday morning treat instead of sweets) and I had nothing in the house that I could offer. Well nothing other than a book I didn’t want to share.

But aren’t I a book champion? Don’t I believe that all reading is good reading? Don’t I try to be that sort of gatekeeper where the gates are always open allowing a flood of variety through rather than thinking I know best about what ought to be locked up and kept from prying eyes? Don’t I believe, on some level, that every book has a reader somewhere out there for whom it will be just right?

All this as preamble to get to the point where I let my personal demons out of the wardrobe and gave M The Snow Bear by Holly Webb.

And of course, M devoured this book. She LOVED this book. She was so excited and happy to read this book. M loves reading, but even I was a little taken aback by the enthusiasm with which she talked about this book and INSISTED that I read it.

So I read it. I read it on my own.


It looked like I was going to have to admit I was wrong. It looked like I was going to have to do that hardest of things and change my opinion.

To be doubly sure, I read it again, this time aloud as a bedtime read to J.

Double Uh-oh.

J adored the book, and even on a second read I still thought this book was really rather good.

It’s about people being kind and thoughtful, it’s about family bonds and tensions, it’s about love, loss and longing, and it’s got a real air of authenticity about it.

From the historical / geographical / social details of Inuit life to the emotional world of a young child, Holly Web has written a story which rings true (even in that final moment when you have to decide has it all been a dream or not).

For a young independent reader it’s a wonderful book. It looks and feels lovely to hold – a proper hardback, with a little bit of sparkle. Black and white illustrations every few pages help draw you in and then the magic of the tale takes over. There’s the adventure of making a real igloo and camping out in it, there’s the delight of listening to your grandpa tell what seem like impossible tales. There’s the reassurance that whenever you’re lost, you will always end up being found and reunited with those that matter to you.

So don’t let any misapprehension you might have about soppy girly stories (or polar bears) put you off picking up this book. If you need any more persuading check out Polly’s brilliant review on her blog, The Little Wooden Horse (interesting not least because she reviews as a mother of two boys) or Library Mice’s review which include a video of the author talking about her book.

Given the season, we decide we’d make some Christmas tree ornaments to remind us of Holly Webb’s Snow Bear. Like the hostess with the mostest I was able to conjure up out of General Supplies some wooden die-cut polar bears (bought several years ago from Hobbycraft) which the girls painted and then covered in sparkles.

Some drilling and thread later our first tree decorations were ready:.

Whilst making our polar bear decoration and banishing nightmares we listened to:

  • Polar Bear by The Quiet Two
  • It’s Wintertime by The Hipwaders
  • Dans notre igloo by Philippe Lhomme

  • Other activities which would be great fun to try along side reading The Snow Bear by Holly Web include:

  • Building your own indoor igloo just like we did here with icecubes!
  • Taking inspiration from the always inspirational Betsy Bird and making decorations based on children’s book illustrations using shrinkies. I can’t get onto Besty’s blog at the moment, but here’s basically the same idea on Craftster.
  • Making snow playdough, using this recipe from Cathy at NurtureStore.

  • When was the last time you had to change your mind about a book? When was the last time you came face to face with your own book prejudices?

    Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Snow Bear by Holly Web from the book’s publishers. I was under no obligation to review the book and I received no money for this post.

    9 Responses

    1. Sam

      Thanks for posting such an honest review, Zoe. I am like you – my heart sinks sometimes when Holly picks up books that I think will be too fluffy or poorly written but also like you I feel that she has to find out for herself (though I won’t buy them – she can get them out of the library!). I am glad though that you were pleasantly surprised by this one. My Holly likes picking up Holly Webb’s books because of the same name though she has yet to read one all the way through!
      Sam recently posted..Review: Monacello: The Little Monk

    2. Zoe

      Hi Polly, yes it works really well for us – I get to read for half and hour, M gets to see me reading, and M gets something fun to read too. All good!

      Hi Sam, yes, it was a difficult review to write honestly – admitting to my prejudices – but in the end not only did the girls enjoy a lovely book, I got to think again about how I approach the books I put in front of my kids.

    3. Library Mice

      My boy is 10 and loved this too. it workes so well as a read aloud. Very atmospheric for this time of year!
      We all have prejudices – some are founded too I think :0) But I do believe in letting kids read what they want. Just remind me I’ve said that when my daughter picks up another Secret Kingdom book!
      Library Mice recently posted..Ernest & Celestine

    4. ReadItDaddy

      We rather liked this book too though for Charlotte there were times while reading it that she cuddled me just a little tighter than normal (a sure sign that something’s worrying or bothering her). But thankfully that didn’t last and we rather loved the atmospheric feel of it.

      Holly Webb also contributes a story to ‘On a Starry Night’ which is definitely worth a read too.
      ReadItDaddy recently posted..On a Starry Night by various authors, illustrated by Alison Edgson (Stripes / Little Tiger Press)

    5. Zoe

      Thanks, Susan, for your recommendation – will check it out.

      Hi ReadItDaddy – guess it really struck a chord with Charlotte. As I wrote, I do think the book does well at being authentic in exploring emotions and that makes it much easier to identify with what’s going on.
      Zoe recently posted..Snowy dreams and nightmares

    6. choxbox

      Honest review – thumbs up. Will keep eyes and ears open.

      And wow – you even had polar bear die-cuts?!

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