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Review: ‘Science Comics: Polar Bears: Survival on the Ice’

Science Comics: Polar Bears

Science Comics: Polar Bears: Survival on the Ice
Written by Jason Viola, Illustrated by Zack Giallongo
First Second, $19.99 (hardcover), $12.99 (paperback)
Grades 4-8

The latest installment of First Second’s excellent non-fiction graphic novel series dives deep into the life of one of the world’s most distinctive animals.

Anik and Ila are sibling polar bear cubs. As they spat with each other and follow Mama around the Arctic, the reader learns in great detail the nature of life in such a harsh environment. Science Comics: Polar Bears covers types of ice, what makes polar bears mammals, how they swim, and the strategies they use for hunting. There’s also information on the unique anatomy that allows polar bears to survive in such an extreme setting and the life cycle of Arctic animals, from algae through krill to seals, the bear’s preferred meal.

Viola doesn’t shy away from the dangers and harsh conditions of this life, with mentions of why the cubs don’t know their father — he might kill and eat them — or showing the results of a seal hunt, with carcasses and bloody muzzles. This life is intense, but there’s also emphasis on the need for patience, stillness, and quiet.

Science Comics: Polar Bears: Survival on the Ice

Giallongo has a fluid, slightly exaggerated style that wonderfully captures the power and grace of these animals. The active cubs are constantly in motion, keeping the reader interested and giving every panel something new to see. They have a ton of personality, and the informative bits are kept visually interesting with pop culture references, like a fast food menu or a wifi signal indicator.

As the cubs contemplate growing up, they’re told about how they’ll need to fight, the mating process, building a birthing den, and interactions with humans. Later, things turn melancholy, as the effects of pollution are detailed, and a section covers how climate change is reducing the ice the polar bears need to survive.

As with other Science Comics, the volume concludes with a glossary, background notes, and reference reading. With its deep dive and rough conditions, Polar Bears: Survival on the Ice isn’t for everyone — teachers or parents may wish to be prepared to discuss some of the more violent or discouraging elements with young readers — but it’s a fascinating collection of facts about the biology and survival of a unique mammal.

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Johanna About Johanna

Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics for over 20 years. She manages ComicsWorthReading.com, the longest-running independent review site online that covers all genres of comic books, graphic novels, and manga. She has an MA in popular culture, studying online fandom, and was previously, among many other things, webmaster for DC Comics. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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