Not only is Dream Boats one of my first reviews posted on The Book Wars, it is one of my favourite picture books ever to this day. So, when Dan Bar-el asked if I’d like to read and review his newest MG book, I didn’t give it a second thought.
Luckily–and unsurprisingly–I don’t regret my decision one bit.
The Very, Very Far North is a funny and sweet novel for young readers about Duane the polar bear who, one day, finds himself in the very, very far north and begins to find out who he is through the friendships he makes. Every creature Duane encounters seem to lead somewhat solitary lives … that is, until Duane.
The thing I love the most about this book is the way it uses character and wordplay to drive story forward. The plot itself is rather gentle, nothing world-ending or too dramatic, just short chapters dedicated to one quirky little bear getting to know another potential friend.
The cute and cartoony style of illustrations compliment the text perfectly as Pousette captures a good combination of moments from the text. Whether it’s Duane’s sledding mishap or watching the skies with C. C, the pictures definitely enhance the pacing of the book. I think my only quibble–that actually has nothing to do with the author or illustrator–is that the book really should have been published in a slightly larger format with colour illustrations. It’s the kind of book that begs to be read together in groups of friends or with family, is all I’m saying.
Another thing to love is how each interaction–at least from Duane’s perspective–begins with equal parts respect and curiosity. As I mentioned, the characters all seem isolated and never before had the need to call anyone or be called in return. So each new friendship begins with Duane picking out a name for his new friend and then making sure they actually like the name.
Each new adventure on the other hand, allows the new characters to reveal their personalities, their flaws, and beneath it all, the same drive for connection. My absolute favourite chapter is with Duane’s first friend C. C, the resident academic and snowy owl. C. C. does not like being hugged and so Duane spends his time with her sitting beside her, chatting about science, and allowing her to conduct some food-related experiments on him. It’s just a lovely reminder that different people show and receive affection in different ways, and Duane certainly doesn’t value C. C. any less because of it.
The Very, Very Far North has been out since September, but I suspect that aside from bedtime reading, it will also make an excellent Christmas present. It’s just the kind of cozy story that would fill wintery days with warmth and cheer.
A NOTE! I don’t want to do a separate announcement about this, so: I recently started at a new job at PRH Canada’s Young Readers department. I thought I should mention it on the blog, just in the interest of transparency, you know. I’ll do my best to continue writing as impartially as I can. You may choose to continue reading my posts–uh, if there are any new ones–or not. I won’t take it personally, promise.