Journey of the Pale Bear Cover

Journey of the Pale Bear

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Middle Grade / Medieval Historical Fiction
(grades 3-7)
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Date of Publication: October 2, 2018
Paperback: October 1, 2019
Number of Pages: 302
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A Distance Too Grand book cover

A runaway boy befriends a polar bear that’s being transported from Norway to London in this lyrical and timeless adventure story about freedom, captivity, and finding a family.

The polar bear is a royal bear, a gift from the King of Norway to the King of England. The first time Arthur encounters the bear, he is shoved in her cage as payback for stealing food. Restless and deadly, the bear terrifies him. Yet, strangely, she doesn’t harm him—though she has attacked anyone else who comes near. That makes Arthur valuable to the doctor in charge of getting the bear safely to London. So Arthur, who has run away from home, finds himself taking care of a polar bear on a ship to England.

Tasked with feeding and cleaning up after the bear, Arthur’s fears slowly lessen as he begins to feel a connection to this bear, who like him, has been cut off from her family. But the journey holds many dangers, and Arthur knows his own freedom—perhaps even his life—depends on keeping the bear from harm. When pirates attack and the ship founders, Arthur must make a choice—does he do everything he can to save himself, or does he help the bear to find freedom?

Based on the real story of a polar bear that lived in the Tower of London, this timeless adventure story is also a touching account of the bond between a boy and a bear.

Honor Book, Golden Kite Awards, 2019
Vermont’s 2019-2020 Dorothy Canfield Fisher list
2020 Oklahoma Sequoyah Book Award Children’s Masterlist
School Library Connection highly recommended book
Junior Library Guild Selection
50 Must-Read Historical Fiction Books for Kids,
“…a stupendous coming-of-age-tale stuffed with adventure and laced with deeper questions… A richly satisfying story saturated with color, adventure, and heart.”
— Kirkus, starred review
“I simply adore this novel. It has it all: gorgeous prose, fascinating history, riveting adventure. But it’s the unlikely tender friendship between a lonely boy and a polar bear that makes this a story to cherish. A lovely little miracle of a book.”
— Katherine Applegate, Newbery Medal-winning author of The One and Only Ivan
“I loved every single thing about this large-hearted and riveting medieval adventure.”
— William Alexander, National Book Award-winning author of Goblin Secrets
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Bookstagram by Kelly: hardcover edition of Journey of the Pale Bear being held by a white teddy bear.

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Clueless Gent’s Rating

5 star rating

Despite Journey of the Pale Bear being targeted for grades 3 through 7, I found this story highly entertaining and enjoyable. I am WAY beyond those grades – or any grades, for that matter – but let’s face it: a good story is a good story!

Susan Fletcher put a very original twist to the “boy and his dog” trope. In place of the dog, she used a bear – a polar bear, to be exact. Given today’s lack-of-common-senseness, I’m wondering if she should have included a warning: Do not try this at home or in a zoo or anywhere! Maybe that would be an overkill, given the unlikely meeting of a reader and a polar bear.

I can see this being a perfect story for a parent to read with a child before bed, so the child’s dreams may be full of adventure. If I had a child in that age range, I would certainly read it with him (or her).

What I Liked About Journey of the Pale Bear

The main character, a young boy named Arthur, runs away from a dysfunctional home life in Norway, heading for his father’s relatives in Wales. En route to his destination, he encounters “the pale bear,” an aging doctor, gruff sailors, as well as pirates and a king. See the adventure thing I mentioned before? It’s all here.

I loved the vernacular used by the author. The story takes place in the thirteenth century, so use of language of that time was appropriate. However, it is stated a few times that Arthur does not understand English. He likely speaks something like Norwegian, but he also knows a few words of Welsh. But, I digress. In the period English language, I think even a youngster could glean the meaning of all the words.

The bear also has a pretty big role in the story. The bear is on its way to London from Norway, as a gift from one king to another. However, after their chance meeting, it seems that Arthur is the only one who can calm the bear. Thus, the friendship is born. I began to think of Arthur as a “bear whisperer,” but he is rather a “bear hummer,” as he calms the bear with his humming.

I won’t give away any more of the plot, so you can hopefully enjoy the story as much as I did.

What I Disliked About Journey of the Pale Bear

There’s really nothing I can put here. There was one 73-word sentence, but it didn’t seem to “run on” as you may expect. It seemed appropriate.

At first, I didn’t like the ending. It seemed to leave the reader hanging. But I went back and re-read the prologue, and that put everything into perspective. I could easily connect the dots, so to speak.

Technically Speaking

I found the book to be flawless, SPAG-wise. Props to the author and her editing team on that!

Aside from Arthur, the characters did not have deep backstories, but that was okay. They didn’t need them.

I found the pacing to be perfect; the story held my interest throughout. The build to the climax was subtle at first – the reader doesn’t really know what the climax will be until well into the story – but once it comes to light, the pace seemed to quicken a bit. Perfect!

If you have a child (or several), or maybe grandchildren or nieces and nephews, I highly encourage you to read this story with them. If you don’t have any of the above, and you feel a little awkward reading a children’s story, read it to your pet. But regardless, if you love good stories, you’ll love this one! I did!

I received a free copy of this book from Lone Star Book Blog Tours in exchange for my honest review.
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Susan Fletcher Author Photo

Although Susan loves to write about long-ago and faraway places, she can’t bring those worlds to life without grounding them in the details of this one. To that end, she has explored lava tubes and sea caves; spent the night in a lighthouse; traveled along the Silk Road in Iran; ridden in a glider, on a camel, and on a donkey; and cut up (already dead!) baby chicks and mice for a gyrfalcon’s dinner. To research Journey of the Pale Bear, she explored the grounds of the Tower of London and went backstage at the Oregon Zoo, where, standing breathtakingly near, she watched polar bears Tasul and Conrad lip grapes from their keepers’ open palms.
Journey of the Pale Bear is Susan’s 12th book, including the Dragon Chronicles series, Shadow Spinner, and Alphabet of Dreams. Collectively, her books have been translated into nine languages; accolades include a Golden Kite Honor Book, the American Library Association’s Notable Books and Best Books for Young Adults, BCCB Blue Ribbon Books, and School Library Journal’s Best Books.
Susan has an M.A. in English from the University of Michigan and taught for many years in the M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College. She lives in Bryan, Texas with her husband, historian R.J.Q. Adams, and their dog, Neville.
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