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Polar Bear Storytime

This week hit me hard. I had a death in the family, and a terrible cold kept me from doing two of my three storytime sessions, which I just hated because I loved this plan and couldn’t wait to share it with the kids. At least I got to do the first session!

Before I start the rundown, let me just say that I found some adorable polar bear books about children befriending polar bears and bringing them hot chocolate or snuggling down in bed with them. I didn’t read a single one of them to the storytimers. We have bears here, although not polar bears, and while I don’t necessarily think there’s much harm in cutening up bears, I don’t want to give the kids an unrealistic impression of an animal they might meet in person. Anthropomorphized bears like Pooh or Paddington are a different story, of course, but the polar bears I saw were all pretty realistic. I decided to go with non-human characters only.

We read:

The Polar Bear Paddle by David Bedford

Polar Bear Paddle cover art

Alfie’s brothers tell him to swim in the sea with them, but he’s afraid to leave the baby pool because he only knows how to do the polar bear paddle. His brothers are “too busy” to teach him (too busy doing what, you jerks?), so Alfie tries to get help from Diving Bird and Seal but eventually finds out his own Polar Bear Paddle is just what he needs.

Interactivity factor: Medium. I asked the kids to mimic the ways the animals in the book tell Alfie to swim, and we had a conversation about how his brothers were buttfaces and Alfie was definitely the bigger man for teaching them his new moves in the end of the story, without even pointing out that he was being the bigger man. Bear. Cub. Whatever.

Panda and Polar Bear by Matthew Baek

Panda & Polar Bear cover art

Squee! Such a cute book, although as an adult, you can’t help wondering exactly where and how this tundra/bamboo forest ecosystem is supposed to exist. The setting isn’t really the point, though. The polar bear falls off his snowy cliff and lands in the bamboo forest, where he meets a panda bear cub his age. They make friends, but the polar bear eventually gets homesick, so panda helps him come up with a way to get home that winds up linking their two tribes, who were previously unaware of each other. Since the panda bears eat bamboo and the polar bears eat seals and fish, I guess peaceful coexistence is plenty believable.

Interactivity factor: Low. I compensated with questions and discussion.

Polar Bear Night by Lauren Thompson

Polar Bear Night cover art

A little polar bear goes out in the middle of the night when all the other animals are asleep and witnesses a marvelous “star shower.” The monochromatic illustrations are gorgeous, although the kids had trouble distinguishing the seals and whale at one point and kept insisting they saw dolphins because the whale and seals both resemble dolphins at times.

Interactivity factor: Low, low, low. But the story moves pretty quickly.

Flannelboard: Polar Bear Parts

flannel polar bear paw

I like to interject some reality into my animal storytimes, especially since the closest zoo is five hours away. That’s right, these kids have zero zoo access! I’m trying to keep them from deprived childhoods, but I can only do so much with felt.

First, I showed them this life-size polar bear paw replica I made. We talked about how all the white fur helps with traction, and so do the claws and the papillae (tiny bumps) on the bear’s paw pads. I used fabric paint to make a bunch of pseudo-papillae on the main paw pad and let the kids feel the bumps.
Polar Bear 021

Meet Mister Polar Bear! He starts as a blank face with a closed mouth. The chant goes like this:

Polar bear, polar bear, what small ears you have! (add ears)

The better to keep them warm, my dears.

Polar bear, polar bear, what small eyes you have! (add eyes)

The better to keep the bright light out, my dears.

Polar bear, polar bear, what a big nose you have! (add nose)

The better to smell my food, my dears.

Polar bear, polar bear, what big (slide out hidden bottom jaw) TEETH you have!
Polar Bear 024

I didn’t say “the better to eat you with,” and didn’t need a last line because the surprise of the teeth had everyone exclaiming. Then we talked about a few facts: polar bear skin is black, polar bear tongues are blue, polar bears can smell food up to 20 miles away on the ice… I explained 20 miles in terms of the location of a neighboring town so they’d understand the distance a little better. I got my factoids from the Sea World Education Department.

Extension Activities:

Polar Bear, Polar Bear

I started with the old standby “Teddy Bear Teddy Bear,” but we said “Polar Bear, Polar Bear” instead.

Dr. Jean’s Cool Bear Hunt

We did the cool bear hunt! It’s like the traditional “Going on a Bear Hunt,” but with candy factories and Jello swamps. Hm, come to think of it, does this mean Dr. Jean foresaw Sugar Rush? I had the kids line up behind me and led them around the children’s department to a copy of Raymond Brigg’s book The Bear. Then I pointed it out, fake-panicked, and led them through the reverse verses back to the storytime room.

Craft: Polar Bears with Cotton Snowdrifts

We have an Accucut machine with a bear die, so I cut out a bunch of white bears and gave the kids blue paper and cotton balls. They used the cotton balls to make snow drifts and glued the bear over the snow. Most of them colored their bears, so we had a lot of rainbow polar bears running around. Great fun!

How It Went:

For me, it went very well. My only issue was that after the bear hunt, they were too wound up for Polar Bear Night, and as I said earlier, the dolphin thing had them confused. They were SURE those animals were dolphins. Why didn’t the book talk about dolphins? Also, the Northern Lights make an appearance, and it’s difficult to explain the aurora borealis to littlies.

Our sainted outreach coordinator was wonderful enough to lead two of the storytime sessions since I showed up with no voice! She had some difficulty getting her first group involved in the Cool Bear Hunt. They didn’t want to line up behind her and walk around. That group is full of tiny tots, though, so the change in routine probably confused them. She said their attention wavered during Panda and Polar Bear, but that happens with that group. Our storytime crowd is 2-5 years old, so I try to do a mix of short, easy books for the littlest ones and more complex stories for the older ones. Either way, someone is bored at some point. However, everyone liked the flannelboard apparently, and the craft went over well. I can’t wait to get back on track in the coming week!

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