A tender and timely tale; likely to inspire future animal rights activists.



In this novel, a large, juvenile polar bear forages for food in the Canadian town of Churchill, an experience that ends his life in the wild.

In Inuit poetry, the polar bear is called Pihoqahiak, “the ever-wandering one.” But in Ryan’s poignant tale about the plight of wild animals whose territory begins to intersect with human civilization, the free-roaming days of a polar bear who becomes known as Patch are over as quickly as they began. It is Halloween eve in 1986, and the 2-year-old bear has discovered there is tasty garbage to be consumed in Churchill, on the southwestern shore of Hudson Bay. He enters a house, causes a commotion, and rushes out the front door, spotting 11-year-old Jordan Johnson on the street. He charges after the frightened boy and is quickly shot with a tranquilizer dart by a bear-patrol officer. The animal is then taken to a holding cell in an airport hangar. The next day, Jordan and his 14-year-old sister, Raven, visit the caged bear. The magnificent youngster is huge, weighing close to 400 pounds “and standing…over seven feet tall. His fur was dense, his paws huge and the muscles on his hindquarters bulged and strained as the bear stood upright.” Looking directly at Jordan, he lets out a massive growl, opening his mouth wide and revealing a gray patch on his tongue. The mark will earn him his name and enable Jordan and Raven to follow his journeys, first to a German zoo, then to a traveling circus. Ryan’s novel, aimed at middle-grade and YA readers, is both engaging and informative. The author includes tidbits about polar bear life in the wild, such as how the animals fish and spread their paws out wide to minimize the risk of falling through thin ice. And she vividly portrays the variety of Patch’s experiences in captivity—some of them gentle, others terribly cruel. Heart-tugging scenes capture the bear pacing in boredom or feeling listless, with a damaged coat from malnutrition and the heat. Jordan and Raven are pleasant human protagonists, determined to free the bear, but it is the majestic Patch who will linger in readers’ minds long after the final page.

A tender and timely tale; likely to inspire future animal rights activists.

Pub Date: March 24, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5305-4127-0

Page Count: 124

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2021

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Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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Bishop’s spectacular photographs of the tiny red-eyed tree frog defeat an incidental text from Cowley (Singing Down the Rain, 1997, etc.). The frog, only two inches long, is enormous in this title; it appears along with other nocturnal residents of the rain forests of Central America, including the iguana, ant, katydid, caterpillar, and moth. In a final section, Cowley explains how small the frog is and aspects of its life cycle. The main text, however, is an afterthought to dramatic events in the photos, e.g., “But the red-eyed tree frog has been asleep all day. It wakes up hungry. What will it eat? Here is an iguana. Frogs do not eat iguanas.” Accompanying an astonishing photograph of the tree frog leaping away from a boa snake are three lines (“The snake flicks its tongue. It tastes frog in the air. Look out, frog!”) that neither advance nor complement the action. The layout employs pale and deep green pages and typeface, and large jewel-like photographs in which green and red dominate. The combination of such visually sophisticated pages and simplistic captions make this a top-heavy, unsatisfying title. (Picture book. 7-9)

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-590-87175-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1999

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