Ice Bear: In the Steps of the Polar Bear

Today we read the Ice Bear (In the Steps of the Polar Bear) written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Gary Blythe. Our goal: to move away from quick questions and begin asking more deep thinking questions.

Polar Bar, Nanuk, is perfectly suited to the Arctic climate and landscape. For many generations, the Inuit people have learned how to live and survive in the Arctic habitat by watching the great Ice Bear. Nicola Davies tells us how polar bears survive in the Northern landscape weaving facts on each page into the beautiful story she tells in such lovely poetic text.

As I read this story aloud, we stopped on each page to share our questions and Ms. Hibbert recorded them. Our curiousity filled three pages of chart paper!

 Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

We then looked at all of our questions and coded them. FO: Found Out (we discovered the answer in the story as we read on) R: Research (to find the answer, we will have to do some research)  I: Infer (we need to infer to figure out the answer – using our background knowledge and our reasoning)

Coding our questions  Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

As we looked at the three charts, we noticed that we had very few questions coded FO (Found Out). This is exciting as it means we are asking fewer quick questions and more complex or deep thinking questions. Using Adrienne Gear‘s Non-Fiction Reading Power we have been learning to distinguish between quick and deep thinking questions. For our purposes here – quick questions are questions that we find the answer to (often down the page or a page or two later), where there is only one answer and where once we know the answer, our thinking stops. Deep thinking questions, on the other hand, inspire more questions, often have more than one answer or require us to do research, more thinking and/or talking to come to an answer at all.

Ms. Hibbert and I were also excited to see students asking multipart questions i.e. Do babies have fur? If not, how do they keep warm? or How often does a polar bear eat and does this affect how much it eats at a time? It was also fantastic to see questions inspire other questions between the students. At one point, Shae-Lynn was sitting right beside my chair with her hand up waiting to share her question and listening to others. “Oh!” she suddenly exclaimed, “Now I have three questions!”

Students then went back to their tables to write and draw about their learning and to share what they were still wondering.

 Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

Some students began reading the books they were looking at for ideas on how to draw a polar bear and talked with each other about what they noticed.

All of a sudden, the research began happening as students realized that they were finding the answers to the unanswered questions we had included on our charts.

 Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

“Hey Ms. Gelson look what Carmen and I discovered!” Catriona summoned me over. She went on to show me the section in the book they had found that talked about polar bear fur in the water. They discovered that the guard hairs are oily and waterproof and hollow. This answered our question about how polar bears can be such good swimmers and whether or not they had fur that wouldn’t get too wet and heavy.

Look! Read here!  Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

Some learning shared in student writing:

* Male polar bears weigh more than females. I wonder if they eat more than females as well.

* I think the baby polar bears are more white than the Moms and really cute.

* I know that polar bears are as fast as a snowmobile. Bears eat seals. They use their sharp claws and kill the seals quickly.

* A female polar bear can have 1 to 3 baby cubs at a time

*I found out that when there is zero seals, polar bears will eat grass, dead birds and fish.


The Ice Bear

This past week, Bill read us The Ice Bear by Jackie Morris. The illustrations in this book beg to be looked at over and over. Absolutely gorgeous! When Bill showed the first picture there was a collective “Whoa!’ and Hajhare exclaimed, “Now that’s what you call Art!”

This book begins with a mother polar bear and her two cubs. They snuggle close to keep out the icy cold. Then trickster raven steals one cub and leaves him in a bundle of white fur for a hunter to find. When the hunter unwraps the bundle, he and his wife discover a baby boy. They were a childless couple who had longed for a baby and they treasured this child, a gift found in the snow. Raven always kept a close watch from above. At the end of the boy’s seventh year, he was lured away from home by a trail of shining amber in the snow. He thought the amber pieces were fallen stars and followed them until he was lost and alone. He was discovered by a group of polar bears who carried him to the mother bear who had once lost a cub. This boy was her stolen son. The curious idea of the boy/bear appealed to the students and they were hard pressed to think of where this boy should truly belong. A loved little boy with his heart pulled in two directions. In the end, he makes a decision that seems exactly right. Jackie Morris pulled us into this magical Arctic world – what a beautiful journey.

Student reviewers report:

Annie: It was sad when the baby bear got caught by the raven.

Hajhare: I like this book because it is interesting. This book is great! I like it because it is one of those books that are fantasy. I like fantasy books because they always have beautiful pictures.

Josiah: I liked this book and it was kind of an Aboriginal story. It was cool how the polar bear turned to a boy.

Scott: I have a question. How did the bear turn to a human? This book is the best. I love the drawings.

The Last Polar Bear

the last polar bear

Tigluk looks out his window and sees a polar bear in the distance. It is Nanuk. She looks straight at him and seems to speak to him “Follow me.” Tigluk and his grandmother paddle out in the ocean searching the ice floes for the bear. They discover, not Nanuk but her cub and Tigluk names him Pilluk (meaning to suvive). “With the melting of the ice, he is the last polar bear,” says Tigluk and cradles the bear in his arms.

This sad story by Jean Craighead George forces us to confront the serious issue of how climate change is affecting the polar bear habitat.

We used this powerful book to practice asking questions as we read and then looked at our questions critically – Did we find an answer in the text? By inferring, can we answer the question? Do we need to do more research? After discussing things, are we left with more questions?

Some of the questions we examined further:

How many bears are in the Arctic? Someone answered this quickly: “It was in the story: Just one left.” Then we talked further and realized we would have to do more research to find out the actual population. Questions were asked about whether polar bears are considered endangered?

If nobody found the polar bear, would he survive? Most people thought that we needed to do more research to answer questions like: How long do they nurse? What exactly do they need to survive? before we could infer because we don’t have enough background knowledge.

Why would the cub be all alone? To answer this question, we needed to use our own thinking and our background knowledge. Some students reminded us about what we had learned about polar bears in the book Winston of Churchill which was that polar bears could drown if the ice floes were too far apart. So we decided that maybe the mother had drowned while hunting for food because the ice was melting and she had too far to swim back to the ice floe where her cub was waiting.

Why did Nanuk choose a boy to look after her cub? For this question, we decided that we should infer. A suggestion was made that maybe Nanuk chose Tigluk because he was young and would have many years to care for the bear and maybe even help change things. Everyone thought that this made a lot of sense

Our questions and thoughts after discussing the book:

If there is only one bear, how will it mate? How will any more polar bears be born?

Is the world really getting too hot?

If the polar bear became used to humans and human food, could it ever go into the wild again?

How will the people in the village survive without polar bears? If other animals in the Arctic are also becoming endangered won’t this be hard on the people in the North who hunt them and use their furs and skins?

So much to wonder and think about from one very special book.



Picture Books we read this week


While searching through the library for interesting picture books, I came across Oma’s Quilt. I pulled it off the shelf because it is illustrated by Stephane Jorisch (who also illustrated Suki’s Kimono – one of my favourite books). Then I noticed it was written by Canadian author, Paulette Bourgeois (author of the Franklin books and Big Sarah’s Little Boots) This book was bound to be a good one!  I tried it out with our reading group.  The story:  Emily’s Oma (grandmother) has to move to a retirement home and she is very reluctant to do so.  What about her precious things? Her neighbours? Cooking apple strudel? Even the bowling alley at the home doesn’t change her mind (smelly shoes!) While Emily and her mother are sorting through Oma’s possessions, Emily has a wonderful idea. Why not make a memory quilt for Oma!? Some students made text to text connections to Eve Bunting‘s The Memory String.  This book received a big round of applause.  Look for it in the library!

We have been reading a lot of Howard B Wigglebottom books to help us learn about ourselves and our relationships. Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns about Bullies teaches us about the importance of asking for help when bullying doesn’t stop. Howard has a little voice inside his head that tells him Be brave, Be bold, A teacher must be told. But it isn’t always easy to trust our intuition and Howard suffers many unpleasant interactions with the Snorton twins before he finally decides to report their behaviour. Finally, he can sleep easily, knowing that he was brave, he was bold when his teacher was finally told. “I am okay. I am safe.” he assures himself at the end.  Such an important book!

This book tells us about Winston, the bear from Churchill, Manitoba who decides to mobolize a group of polar bears to teach the tourists who come to see the polar bears about the effects of global warming on the melting ice in the Arctic.  “Ice is nice!” the bears chant during their protest march. We learn that we must all do our part to protect the Earth. “Recycle!”  “Walk, Bike, Ride!” “Solar Power!”  “Turn down the furnace!” Winston of Churchill by Jean Davies Okimoto was the winner of the Green Earth Book Award. This book is also in Seymour’s library.

Happy Reading!