The Polar Bear Explorers' Club by Alex Bell
Ill. by Tomislav Tomic. Faber and Faber, 2017. ISBN 9780571332540
(Age: 8-11) Recommended. Themes: Fantasy, Explorers and exploration. Stella Starflake Pearl was saved as a young child from the Icelands, an unexplored land and adopted by her rescuer Felix. This pale white girl lives in a beautiful mansion with a polar bear, unicorns, pygmy dinosaurs and mean Aunt Agatha who wants to send Stella off to boarding school. Her one desire is to be an explorer, a navigator and sail away with her father on his next expedition. He is a member of the Polar Bear Explorer's Club that bans women from embarking on their adventures, much to Stella's disgust. She is surprised and delighted when Felix relents and the very next day, Stella and her unicorn Magic set sail aboard The Bold Adventurer.
Stella is feisty and fearless. She soon befriends Shay the captain's son and wolf whisperer and Beanie who is studying to be a medic. They are handicapped by the Ocean Squid Explorers Club who are accompanying them especially Ethan, a self-centred boy who dislikes Stella, Beanie, and Shay. The fast-paced adventure includes an ingenious escape from a collapsing ice bridge, navigating subterranean caves and tunnels, problems with wolves and a herd of woolly mammoths. With the young explorers separated from the others, they learn to deal with the extremely cold conditions by relying on each other's abilities.
Tomic's black and white sketches are styled to look like 19th century drawings recorded by explorers. As the four young explorers journey across the ice and snow, we see the daring sleigh ride across the ice bridge, the magnificent sparkling castle rising in front of them and the opulent entrance to the Polar Bear Explorers' Club. Alex Bell's magical world captures the imagination, her settings are detailed, her narrative lyrical, with her magical creatures and humans filled with both wonder and danger. Read aloud to a middle primary class, this fantasy promises to keep the students engaged, and there are more adventures ahead for Stella and her friends.