The story of a female polar bear provides an overview of the species’ life cycle and includes the mention of environmental changes that threaten their existence.
Clear, soft illustrations in Winter’s characteristic style accompany her straightforward text. She starts with several pages that describe the Arctic landscape, offering a sense of place and placement. Similarly simple sentences cover feeding, mating (“a dance of courtship”), and the raising of cubs. A touch of sentiment appears in the forlorn expression on Nanuk’s face when her young are old enough to strike out on their own, but overall both narrative and pictures focus on conveying an accurate picture of typical experiences and behaviors. Illustrations are centered on each page, bordered in white, while behind them a rising sea changes color and height in successive spreads, eventually engulfing the white space entirely. In the final pages the author mentions the changes that have been implied throughout by this changing background. Although she softens the grim prospect by ending with the positive future envisioned in Nanuk’s dreams, the reality, however lightly limned, ultimately gives the story a melancholy tone.
As in other books by the author, big issues are presented in an accessible manner and subtly enough that adults can guide children to an age-appropriate understanding of them. (Picture book. 5-8)