CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 6 . . . . November 12, 1999
Nanuk stopped, his white body just another piece of the icy jigsaw puzzle that was the arctic wilderness. Then, in silent grace, nine feet of bear rose upward and balanced motionless.The events that follow describe a polar bear in his pursuit of a meal while, at the same time, he, himself, is being stalked by a predator of his own. The bear is called Nanuk, the Inuit word for polar bear. Readers are told he is also known as the ice bear, the sea bear or the ever-wandering bear. Those acquainted with this animal in northern Manitoba know of his ever-wandering nature. Around this time each year, he cuts through the town of Churchill while traveling north on the circular route of his migration to the sea ice and his winter food supply.
Nanuk's efforts to secure enough food to survive demonstrate his adaptions to the elements of his habitat. His white coat makes him invisible to a nearby seal who cautiously peers out of his breathing hole in the ice. His dense fur and fat layer allow him to float silently in the icy water until another seal swims close enough to capture. When he eats, he chooses the blubber of the seal, leaving behind the muscular red meat to the arctic foxes who shadow him. The bear's hunting techniques, his favourite foods, his strength and agility are woven into the story.
The illustrations, realistically painted in oil on canvas by Gregory Manchess, capture the cold of the far north through the predominance of blues and purples. The low angle of the sun, as it barely rises above the horizon, casts a golden glow on many of the scenes of the story.
This book provides many opportunities for discussions of food webs and adaptations to habitats. Nanuk's hunt confirms the harsh reality of survival in a hostile environment. Readers are on Nanuk's side all the way! Although the seals are not so fortunate, to the readers' relief, Nanuk survives his encounter with his human hunter. Despite losing a valuable source of food and clothing, the Inuk hunter shows his grace and reverence by celebrating the courage of the polar bear who got away.
Helen Arkos is the teacher-librarian at John Pritchard, a Kindergarten to Senior 1 School in Winnipeg, MB.
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