If you are looking for a story that leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling of contentment, and a deeper understanding of how friendship works, look no further.
The book blurb begins: "An inquisitive polar bear named Duane befriends an array of animals as he discovers where he belongs in this charming classic-in-the making that’s reminiscent of Winnie the Pooh." It does indeed remind this reader of Winnie the Pooh, and many other animal based stories like Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel. However briefly, it even reminded me of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.
The Very, Very Far North is primarily a book about friendship. Duane, the polar bear likes nothing more than sleeping, eating, exploring and making friends. He is especially talented at picking just the right name for his pals. These include CC, the owl; Handsome, the muskox; Major Puff, the puffin; Twitch the hare; Magic, the arctic fox; Boo the caribou; Sun Girl and her wolf pack; and Squint, the painter. The most important thing you need to know about them is that Duane accepts all of them for who they are, even though sometimes, they can be very annoying.
In case you are wondering if anything exciting happens in this book. It surely does - many times. There is a terrifying blizzard, a dangerous toboggan ride, misunderstandings and many more dramatic events to look forward to.
I was charmed by the bits of philosophy integrated into the stories. Days can have different kinds of possibilities. Thursdays are the day all good stories start. Tuesdays are the day when stories with unexpected situations take place. Perhaps the most important thing Duane and readers have to learn about days is that ultimately, "You can have hopes and you can have goals, but a day will take you where a day wants to go." I especially appreciated when, during one of Duane's interactions with Squint, the painter, we are introduced to the reality of different ways of seeing the world.
The character who most fascinated me as I read the book, was the narrator. It makes brilliant mentor text for writers exploring this aspect of the craft. The narrator provides a third-person omniscient point of view who stops regularly to directly address the reader. I adored this voice near the end of the book when we read, "There has been some discussion among the characters. The question came up of how to bring this book to a proper ending." Then we learn each of their ideas, and finally understand that what comes next is the group's decision. We discover at the end of the book who this narrator is, but that is something you will have to find out by reading it yourself.
Interspersed with the text are Kelly Pousette's delightful black and white illustrations. They add to the humour and sweetness of the narrative.
The book is suggested as appropriate for readers aged 8 to 12. I believe it would make a brilliant read aloud for younger children - one that their parents will enjoy as well.
I do hope Dan Bar-el writes another novel sharing more stories from this quirky collection of friends. Readers of all ages will look forward to it.