Nanu is a young polar bear cub living in the North Pole with his father, mother, and grandmother. As their home grows warmer and warmer, Nanu’s parents must work harder and travel farther to find food for their family while Nanu plays and waits with his grandmother. When Nanu’s father doesn’t return home after an especially long and difficult trip, Nanu and his mother must leave Grandma behind and travel further north to safety with the help of a tern who guides them along the way. “The Polar Bears’ Journey” depicts Nanu overcoming the fear of his family losing their home and finding the bravery to survive their trying journey. It is a story as warm and comforting as the encouraging words Nanu’s mother uses to teach him strength and courage.
There’s no easy way to teach future generations about the severity of the threats posed by climate change, let alone without addressing political conversations that may not be appropriate for young children. And, yet, Pere and Panchyshyn manage to make it seem easy. “The Polar Bears’ Journey” reads like your average heartwarming children’s tale about familial love, friendship, and overcoming the hardship of growing up and learning about the world around you. It’s no ordinary story, however. The book shrewdly packages an important message about the state of the planet and the impending effects of climate change without losing focus on its standout feature — its depiction of the young polar bear’s caretakers nurturing him and doing what they can to prepare Nanu for a changing world. In this way, the book is as valuable for parents as it is for children.
Panchyshyn’s unique art style goes a long way in complementing the story’s central themes by portraying instances of Nanu’s family protecting, providing for, and playing with him at various points in the story. The touching images make clear that Nanu gets his strength from his family, whether it’s through his mother’s love, his grandmother’s wisdom, or his father’s bravery. Even the friendly tern’s loyalty and generosity contribute to Nanu’s upbringing. The book’s characters and illustration work together to gently approach a subject that may otherwise be difficult to explore with children in a way that neither sugarcoats the issue nor insists a particular agenda. Instead, it gracefully suggests that things are changing, and it may be scary, but, through love and trust, we can figure it out. Pere finds a striking balance between the appropriate degree of honesty regarding the severity of climate change and the glimmer of hope imparted on Nanu by his family.
“The Polar Bears’ Journey” is as comforting as it is poignant. It reminds us that, although we may be in some trouble, all hope is not lost; we must find a way to prepare our young ones for the future.