Polar Bear by Malcolm Penny (2000) is a nonfiction book for young readers. The book begins by discussing basic facts about polar bears such as their weight, speed, advantageous characteristics, and where polar bears live. Penny (2000) then proceeds to discuss “relatives” of the polar bear, the birth and life of cubs, dens of the females, predators, hunting grounds and food, the food chain, forms of communication, migrating, mating, the life cycle, threats, and protecting the species. The book also contains many text features, which will be discussed within the illustration evaluation. As far as genre is concerned, this nonfiction book would be appreciated and loved by young children, ranging from grades 2-5. Within Penny’s (2000) book, the facts were completely explained and current (Galda, Cullinan, & Sipe, 2010). The material and subject are also appropriate for the age range above. The author has logically sequenced the information in a fashion that is understandable, including illustrations and other text features that complement the material. Penny (2000) has also written the book in a way that readers can enjoy factual information about the beautiful polar bear. The author also appears to be quite knowledgeable on the topic of polar bears, and uses terminology that is not only appropriate, but able to expand the vocabulary of young readers (Galda et al., 2010).
The illustrations within Polar Bear include photographs that “illuminate the facts and concepts” (Galda et al., 2010, p. 306). Every page of the book contains multiple illustrations that portray the information that is developed within the text. Such photographs also help the reader to visualize the polar bear within its environment. Another illustrative technique that is valuable within nonfiction books such as Polar Bear would be text features. Text features are used within Polar Bear to help organize and expand upon information within the book. To begin with, the book starts with a table of contents which states the topics covered, and the pages numbers where each can be found. The book is also organized by general headings and specific subheadings. Penny (2000) also uses diagrams in the book; one of these describes different features of the polar bear. Next, a map is incorporated into the book, showing readers where wild polar bears can be located. As previously discussed, Penny (2000) uses many photographs to display polar bears; under such photographs, there are captions which discuss the specifics of the image. There are also 2 charts which portray the life cycle of polar bears, as well as where they stand in the food chain. At the end of the book, there is a glossary of terms used within the book, as well as an index that readers can use to find certain topics quickly. Lastly, Penny (2000) has a portion at the end for further information where he provides other book titles about polar bears, useful websites, and organizations to contact.
Though the audience of Polar Bear may be for those within grades 2-5, I really enjoyed and learned from Penny’s (2000) nonfiction literature on polar bears. Before reading this book, my son and I looked through the pictures; when my mother saw us looking through the book, she told me something about their fur not really being white. My mom could not remember the details, but she told me to see if the book mentioned it; sure enough, Penny (2000) discusses the polar bears’ coat. As my mother mentioned, a polar bear’s fur appears white because “it reflects light from the snow” (p. 4). This appearance, however, is quite deceiving, as the hairs are really hollow and transparent. A polar bears’ fur is also waterproof and helps to keep him or her dry and warm. Did you know all of this about just a polar bears’ fur? If not, check out Polar Bear and the many neat facts within the book!
Malcolm Penny, the author of Polar Bear, is not only a writer, but a zoologist and a film-maker (Alibris, 2013). Penny was the producer of the show “Survival,” a series on natural history television. Penny has also written many books that deal with the environment and wildlife. Other books by Penny include Bees, The Food Chain, and The Monkey and the Ape: Close Relatives (Goodreads Inc., 2013).
Below are 2 motivational activities and reader response questions that would be beneficial for students within the classroom:
1. The 1st activity would be filling in a KWL chart prior to and after reading Polar Bear. Nonfiction books are excellent for students to decipher what they already (K)now, what they (w)ant to know, and what they have (l)earned. I would have the students get into small groups of 4, and complete the column of what they already know about polar bears, prior to reading the book. I would then have students brainstorm different ideas about what that they would like to know/hope to learn about polar bears. After reading the book, I would then have the students see if they learned what they wanted to learn from the book, or what they learned in general. This worksheet is also excellent for class discussions, as students can write down information that they feel is valuable to bring up during a class conversation. Readwritething.org (2013) provides an excellent KWL template for students to use. The link is below:
2. The 2nd activity would be an actual nonfiction unit in which students would be able to create one’s own nonfiction book. Students would first pick a topic of interest. After visiting the library, students would then have a nonfiction book on the topic of choice. After reading through the book, students would pick out 3 topics within their book, and create an illustration and text for the topic. Students would also need to incorporate at least one text feature into the book. After the pagers were completed, students would be able to create a cover page, tables of contents, and glossary. This would be a great project for the class, and to share with parents!
Reader Response Questions:
- What information in the book came as a surprise to you? Explain.
- Do you have any remaining questions about polar bears after reading this book? Share!
- Can you pick out the different text features that the author uses? How are these helpful for readers?
Alibris. (2013). Malcolm Penny. Retrieved from
Galda, L., Cullinan, B.E., & Sipe, L. R. (2010). Literature and the Child (7th ed.). Belmont, CA:
Goodreads Inc. (2013). “Polar Bear”. [online image]. Retrieved from
Goodreads Inc. (2013). Books by Malcolm Penny. Retrieved from
Penny, M. (2000). Polar Bear. Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaughn Publishers
Readwritethink.org. (2013). KWL Chart. Retrieved from