The arctic and antarctic seem like appropriate topics for learning about while the snow piles up outside. I want my children to have an appreciation for the differences between the polar regions and an understanding of how the polar regions interact with the rest of our planet. As the polar ice melts the arctic, in particular, becomes a political issue. Who has claims what resources there? Whose rules will govern the waters? There is a possibility that the North West Passage searched for for so long will open up. I want my children to get a sense of the arctic as being not just at the top of Russia, Europe and North America but as something that fills the space between them. It isn’t just something at the fringe of the world; it can be put in the center of a map and the world drawn round it. There are people living there.
With these different goals in mind I looked for books that would help me. Here are some of the ones I found:
Poles Apart: Why Penguins and Polar Bears Will Never Be Neighbors by Elaine Scott. We had trouble with the introduction of this book because it starts off talking about a doomed expedition to the South Pole, but once we skipped over that part this book got interesting. It talks about how the continents drifted apart and why the antarctic has fossil remains of tropical creatures. It explains about the magnetic poles, and how the earths magnetosphere protects us from solar winds. It talks about why people settled at the arctic but not the antarctic, and about the different animals that live at each.
The book lends itself to lots of follow up activities, including playing with magnets to see the magnetic fields or to make homemade compasses. It explains latitudes very clearly. I used to be stumped on how the parallel lines were based on degrees, but it makes sense to me after drawing out a circle (a cross section of the earth) and marking out the degrees around the edge (with the equator as 0 and the poles as 90) and then drawing lines out from there.
The Kids Book of the Far North is another good book. Written by Ann Love and Jane Drake the book is divided into two page spreads on various topics from the environment, the animals, people and history. It includes myths and stories and relates about the Northern people of both North America and Russia. We made playdough eggs in response to the picture of the thick-billed murres with their eggs that roll in circles rather than off rocky cliffs. We followed that up with conversations about how evolution works, as well as why cubical eggs wouldn’t work.
The Long, Long, Journey The Godwit’s Amazing Migration by Sandra Markle and Mia Posada. This is a stunning picture book tracing the life of a small bird that hatches in Alaska and flies down to New Zealand. I saw it listed on NetGalleys, a source for soon-to-be-published books, and requested it because it looked like it would fit with my goal of connecting the arctic with the rest of the world. It did so beautifully.
The text is very readable and story-like without anthropomorphizing the birds. It contains a decent amount of information in it without seeming to filled with random trivia. A map at the back helps illustrate where the birds travel and the author’s note explains about how New Zealanders celebrate the arrival of the godwits. I love the idea of introducing my children to the stories of different types of birds, not just the most famous or most popular.
Magic Words, illustrated by Mike Blanc is another book I requested and received from the publishers through NetGalleys. The description of magic words from the publishers website is:
Magic Words is a modern translation (1965) of a very old Inuit creation story by nationally known poet Edward Field. As a poem it captures beautifully the intimate relationship this Arctic people have with their natural world.
Magic Words describes a world where humans and animals share bodies and languages, where the world of the imagination mixes easily with the physical. It began as a story that told how the Inuit people came to be and became a legend passed from generation to generation. In translation it grew from myth to poem. The text comes from expedition notes recorded by Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen in 1921. Edward Field got a copy from the Harvard Library and translated it into English.
When my eight year old first looked at one of the early pictures in the book, with faces, fish and a wolf’s face together, he thought it creepy. It’s like Escher, I said, and he smiled and relaxed a bit. We talked about the illustrations and how very simple line drawings and color could create such interesting patterns. I was a little bit disappointed that the illustrations were not done by an Inuit, but by someone who studied the Inuit styles. Still they are beautifully done and worth viewing, and my children became interested in how they were drawn by hand and then computer colored, so we tried doing a few pictures in that way.
The very limited words of the poem, a sentence or phrase per page, lend themselves to discussions about science and mythology. What would it have been like before? Did people really believe that they could turn into animals and animals into human? Why might these ideas have come about? My children know a couple of variations of a story where Raven steals the sunlight and brings it to the people. Does it change our understanding of Raven a bit if we think he might not have been the only one credited with changing between animal and person?
Knowing that the text comes from the Danish explorer gave us another topic to read about. Who was Knud Rasmussen? The simple poetry-book became the basis for quite a bit of discussion and follow-up activities.