Polar bear is enjoying paddling with his friends close by when the peace and quiet is disturbed by the sound of cracking ice. Oh no! The ice breaks and the three friends float away. Clinging to each other, they sail into the middle of the ocean. Realising they will never see their icy home again, they decide to look for a new home. The journey is difficult, storms rage and the bears worry that they will lose each other along the way.
Soon land is spotted. An island inhabited by a herd of cows. The polar bears politely ask if they can moo-ve in, but the cows aren’t happy. Polar bears are just too different- too tall, too furry and too much like bears! The polar bears have no choice; they must move on and look for another place to live. The next island is home to a solitary panda bear. They are bound to have something in common with a fellow bear. Again they ask if they can come ashore, but the panda is worried that there won’t be enough room for three more. The polar bears cannot stay.
The next island the polar bears come to has a wall built around it. The polar bears’ cries for help go unanswered due to the thickness of the walls and the giraffes that live on the island cannot hear them. The polar bears are now really starting to worry. Their iceberg has become so small that if they do not find land soon, they will have nothing to float on. They begin to lose hope of ever finding a new home. By a stroke of luck, the ocean carries them to an uninhabited island which they are glad they will have all to themselves.
The polar bears quickly settle in and not a moment too soon. A troop of monkeys float by on a leafy raft. They are also in need of a home and ask if they can stay. The polar bears think for a moment and then immediately respond, ‘You are … WELCOME!’
Barroux is now well known for handling difficult topics with simplicity and a touch of humour, enabling important messages to be transmitted to younger audiences without appearing preachy or condescending. This beautiful book is no different and its message is very timely for the world in which we currently find ourselves. In 2015, it was recorded that 65.3 million people or one person in 113 were displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution (statistics can be found here). Barroux’s message is simple, we need to be less selfish, look beyond our differences, break down barriers and try to be more welcoming. Even the youngest reader will be able to identify these themes through the charming illustrations and text in this superb book.
Some ideas for using this book in the classroom...
Discuss the important themes in the book and how each group of animals in the story exhibit commonly held beliefs regarding people seeking refuge and debate opposing viewpoints.
Find out what the words ‘refuge’, ‘immigrant’ and ‘migrant’ mean. Discuss whether these words describe the polar bears in the story.
Discuss what you can do to be more welcoming. Write a welcome guide for someone moving to your school.
Create your own icebergs and time how long it would take for them to melt in your own warm salty ocean.
Discuss the word 'hope'. What does it mean? Can readers think of other characters from books they have read that had hope or a lack of hope? How important is it for characters and stories to have an element of hope?
Create a game for the polar bears to play whilst floating on the ice in order to pass the time.
Read other books about people who are displaced - ‘Refuge’ by Anne Booth, ‘The Arrival’ by Shaun Tan, ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna, ‘A Story Like the Wind’ Gill Lewis.
Egmont ISBN: 978-1405280525
You can read another review of 'Welcome' here.