The Polar Bear in Sydney Harbour by Beck and Robin Feiner

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

One of the most exciting developments in publishing is the high quality and irresistible nature, mostly, of books for children.  From babies to young adults, there is an ever-growing selection which would impoverish a family should book-loving parents succumb and shower their offspring with appealing items.

Of course, libraries are an excellent alternative to this temptation on the finances of these parents.

These days, there is the added bonus in that many of these delightful books are Australian.  Not just the talented author/illustrator but the settings are as well.  The Polar Bear in Sydney Harbour is one such book.  Aimed at the very young, it is a fine addition to the bookshelf.

The illustrations are captivating.  They are in glorious colour, simply done but full of detail.  They are not only attractive but offer an ideal opportunity to talk about the finer details and encourage observation.  There is a small cat stealing from a box of fish fingers.  A seagull is waving a poster saying ‘sea – ya’ and the inside cover and end piece show a simplified map of the polar bear’s route from the Arctic, and then his return.

The tale begins when a gigantic and obviously conspicuous white bear floats on an iceberg in the Harbour.  Hannah, returning by ferry from Taronga Park Zoo, notices him and they join up and catch a train from Circular Quay.  She realises the bear is sad and lonely as well as hungry.  She decides on a clever plan to attract the help of adults who can help, and a happy ending follows.

It is a simple tale but messages are contained within it that are contemporary and echo the complaints of our wider society.  For instance, on the train, no one notices the enormous white furry figure crouched uncomfortably on the seat.  All eyes are fixed on their phones.  Little children often moan that they can’t get the attention of a parent as they are constantly staring at their mobiles.  They would definitely relate to this scenario!

The Bondi Beach scene is a scattering of self-absorbed people – an indictment of our current society – a social comment probably lost on a small child.

Light-hearted humour appears when Hannah and the bear go to the shop for a cool drink.  Wedgiemite, Lilo, Tom Sams and Wheezels are all on sale in their distinctive packaging – unmistakeably Vegemite, Milo, Tim Tams and Cheezels.  ‘Mistakes’ like these often get a hearty giggle from a four-year-old.  The haircuts for the hot and stressed bear are comical too.

Ironically, people stare at polar bears in an Arctic Christmas scene featured in a shop window while being unaware of the real bear beside them – yet another social comment.

Beck and Robin Feiner have also presented another entertaining book – If I Was P.M.  If it is as attractive and entertaining as The Polar Bear in Sydney Harbour, it is worth seeking out.

Unfortunately, a polar bear floating on an iceberg in Sydney Harbour is a sad reminder that, with climate change, the idea is not so outlandish as it would have been in the past.  This is a topic which isn’t appropriate for a small pre-schooler, but the reader, be it parent or teacher, would be reminded that this impacts in innumerable ways.  Bearing in mind their previous book title, the Feiners obviously believe even a young child should be politically aware.  Not all parents would agree and strive to shield little ones form the burdens of big questions.

Solely as an imaginative exercise, The Polar Bear in Sydney Harbour is a delight.

The Polar Bear in Sydney Harbour

[2020]

by Beck and Robin Feiner

Harper Collins

ISBN 978 0 733 33940 0

$29.95; 32pp

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