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. Volume VIII Number 14 . . . . March 15, 2002
"The bear did come again and they locked her in the bear jail. Brunn understood the wisdom of his mother's words but his heart went out to the bear. Her hunger is too much, he thought, and he stole a fish. "Eat," whispered Brunn. "It is for you. I will bring you more." The snow bear was grateful. The food gave her back her strength and the boy filled the space in her heart where her cubs had been. She waited for his visits.
Brunn befriends a polar bear that keeps returning to the town dump to feed and is locked in the bear jail. Brunn bonds with the bear as he sneaks her food while she awaits her winter release. When young Brunn accompanies the bear out onto the ice, a blizzard causes him to seek refuge in the polar bear's den. The polar bear protects and cares for Brunn until she realizes that he must return home and she leads him back to town. As they near town, Brunn must protect his bear friend from hunters. Brunn returns home with the hunters, but he misses his polar bear friend. The next winter, Brunn tries to rejoin the bear but is not accepted as she now has cubs of her own. Once again, as a grown man, Brunn meets the much older polar bear while hunting. Now his bear friend is too old to survive on her own. Brunn, who cannot bring himself to kill her, protects and cares for the polar bear until winter when she dies peacefully in her sleep.
Up North, the polar bear is the Inuit's most feared animal. Until I read this book, I had never heard of "bear jails." The book is unclear in the location of its setting. The endnote does indicate that there is an actual "bear jail" in Churchill. I did some checking, and there definitely are not any "bear jails" up here in Nunavut. Wildlife officers have a couple of portable cages, but they aren't normally used. Everyone I talked to laughed at the idea of "bear jails." Up North, if anyone sees a polar bear, they get their gun and call the RCMP. It was the storyline of this picture book with which I had a problem. I guess my location tainted my opinion of this book for, when I read Snow Bear, I found it unsettling. When I showed the book to my coworkers, their reaction was immediate. There was a great concern over the idea of children being shown getting anywhere near a polar bear. The consensus was that "down South" this book might be OK, but up here it was dangerous to even suggest such a thing. In the "South," there is no possibility of someone running into a polar bear, but up here it is a very real possibility.
The end pieces are lovely and resemble many of the smaller communities in Nunavut. The illustrator has used acrylic paints to portray this northern landscape beautifully. However, I was disappointed that the characters in the story were not clearly portrayed as Inuit.
This isn't a book I would choose to read at a Storytime program here in Iqaluit. However, I might have chosen Snow Bear down "South" as a good book to introduce the concept of the Churchill "bear jails." After all, we mustn't forget the fact that this book is a work of fiction. The endnote is a welcome addition, though I wish it had come as an introduction.
Recommended with reservations.
As the result of an exciting move, Catherine Hoyt is now the Reference Librarian at the Nunavut Legislative Library in Iqaluit, Nunavut. However, she enjoys volunteering at the local public library in the newest capital in Canada.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.