“The Snow Bear” tells the story of a close bond between Bruun, an Inuit Eskimo boy and a wild polar bear who comes into town in the autumn to feed at a dump. Her cubs had been killed by hunters and she is tired and hungry. The bear is locked up in the polar bear jail (yes, that’s a real thing) and when the ocean freezes, she will be set free and let out onto the ice.
While in the polar bear jail she is only given water. It’s natural for bears to fast through the warmer months, Bruun’s father explained, and feeding her would only make her want to stay. Bruun saw the wisdom in his father’s words, but the animal’s hunger was too much for him to bear. Bruun started stealing fish to feed the bear and when the bear was released, Bruun followed her out onto the ice where she teaches him how to live like a bear, feeding on seals until the Spring.
And so begins an unlikely friendship between a wild polar bear and a young Inuit Eskimo boy who “filled the space in her heart where her cubs had been”. Bruun saves the bear from starvation and she, in turn, saves Bruun from a mighty blizzard. They become separated and don’t meet again until Bruun is a grown man.
Despite not being Christmas themed, this book has a special place in my Christmas box. Maybe it’s the power of kindness, love and compassion that moves the story forward. Maybe it’s the breathtaking winter landscapes of the North Pole with its glistening ice under the infinite skies. This special book imprints on you at first read and inspires reflection long after you’ve turned the last page.
The illustrations in “The Snow Bear” are simply magnificent. Boundless ice plains and ice rocks formations of a thousand shades of blues, yellows and pinks of immense skies reflecting in the ocean, the awe-inspiring Northern Lights dancing above it all. I find myself reaching out to it again and again; the grandeur of its illustrations is animating my dream of visiting the North Pole.
“The Snow Bear” was written by Liliana Stafford, an Australian author from Perth, Western Australia. She notes that her inspiration comes from nature, family and friends, both animal and human. She has modelled the town where Bruun lives on a northern Canadian town – Churchill, Manitoba – whose residents call The Polar Bear Capital of the World. You can find out more about Churchill in this National Geographic article.
Liliana has been consistently gathering information about polar bears. She notes that at the time of writing this book (published in 2011), depending on the source, the world’s polar bear population counted between 22,000 to 27,000.
Ice melting each year at greater rates deprives polar bears of valuable feeding time in the spring. As a result, they venture out further from the seas in search of food and often come into towns. “Bear jails” are real and established with good intent to protect townspeople from polar bears and polar bears from human harm. Bears are usually detained to deter them from returning to town.
To keep the polar bear from becoming extinct, all the countries that are home to polar bears (Canada, Russia, Denmark, Norway and the United States) signed an Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears and their Habitats in 1973. It banned the hunting of polar bears, except for local people using traditional methods in the exercise of their traditional rights. 
Lambert Davis, who illustrated this book was born in Hawaii and moved to California whilst still young and so began a “lifetime of observation, contemplation and portrayal of the marine environment”. Lambert graduated (with honours) from Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, the USA in 1986. In 2015 he earned a PhD in Natural History Illustration from the University of Newcastle, Australia. According to Lambert’s website, this versatile artist has illustrated 14 books, encompassing a diverse scope of illustration styles.
“The Snow Bear” version that I own is the American edition that has been published by arrangement with Margaret Hamilton Books, an imprint of Scholastic Australia. This makes it extra special for me as Margaret Hamilton’s life-long passion for putting quality picture books into the readers’ hands has always been a great inspiration.
I had the privilege and the pleasure of being exposed to that passion first-hand on numerous occasions. If you are based in Australia you too can get your share of it by visiting the Pinerolo Children’s Book cottage run by Margaret and Max Hamilton. You would find many treasures at Pinerolo, amongst them a library of about 2,000 picture books and reference texts on children’s literature as well as a fabulous collection of the original artworks from the books that Margaret brought to life during her long career in publishing.
An original Lambert Davis illustration for “The Snow Bear” is amongst the many artworks you would find on the cottage walls. Pinerolo is one of the best places to stay and recharge, located in the beautiful Blue Mountains just a few hours drive from Sydney.
For more fabulous winter and Christmas themed books click here.
 Information on Liliana Stafford’s findings and information regarding polar bears and the attempts to protect their population are from the Author’s Note at the back of the book.