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Polar Bears



larger jpeg of front cover

full jacket

at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A Junior Library Guild Selection

National Teachers Association Recommends


This photo was taken on the Southern Beaufort Sea north of Barrow, Alaska, on March 27th. It was 35 below zero and the field biologists had just darted this 1000-lb male polar bear with enough sedative to keep it calm for an hour so they could measure, weigh, and take blood samples. 

Long-term monitoring of polar bears in Alaska will help scientists and managers know what to do as the ice and the seals that polar bears depend on disappear. 

The weight of this fella's head was like a cannon on my legs.  It's so eerie to be this close to such a magnificent creature.  His eyes were open and I could hear him breathe. 

A few hours later he was up and about, carrying on with his life, so supremely adapted to the stark and extreme conditions of the Arctic.

The Horn Book

The Polar Bear Scientists
[Scientists in the Field]
by Peter Lourie
Intermediate, Middle School Houghton 80 pp.
1/12 978-0-547-28305-0 $18.99

In the latest entry in the series, Lourie takes us to Alaska to observe biologists researching a subpopulation of polar bears, adding to a data set that has been collected over the past forty years. The wealth of information collected over a two-week period each spring is important to documenting possible effects of global warming on the bears, now considered a threatened species due to increased melting of sea ice. Lourie joins the field research team on several dramatic helicopter expeditions, called captures, in search of polar bears to measure and tag. The accounts describe every detail of the work—searching and locating the bears, flying in close enough to shoot a tranquilizer dart and sedate them, landing to collect samples and measurements, and tagging and tattooing new bears, or noting the numbers of those captured in previous seasons—all in just under an hour. He then takes us back to the lab to see the painstaking care scientists take to properly process and store these data. Interspersed with the field report are commentaries from the project directors, who spend their time analyzing the data and publicizing their results. Crisp photographs of the polar bears and researchers effectively convey the massive size and beauty of the animals and the details of the equipment needed to do scientific research in such extreme conditions. A glossary, a suggested reading list, websites, and sources are appended.

danielle j. ford



School Library Journal

LOURIE, Peter. The Polar Bear Scientists. 80p. (Scientists in the Field Series). maps. photos. further reading. glossary. index. notes. Web sites. Houghton Harcourt. 2012. Tr $18.99. ISBN 978-0-547-28305-0. LC 2011003449.

Gr 5-8–Since the 1960s, wildlife scientists have been studying Alaskan polar bears in their native habitat. Tracking aggressive wild animals via helicopter is a far cry from the stereotype vision of scientists working in a temperature-controlled laboratory. The narrative is a detailed description of such daily duties as chasing down the animals, tattooing them for future identification, weighing them, and drawing blood, all conducted in temperatures that can fall to minus 30°F. Nighttime chores include cleaning the instruments and repacking them for the next day. The full-color photographs are nothing short of stunning. They provide images of the animals staring up at the looming helicopter, mother bears with cubs, and scientists carefully and almost tenderly working on the sedated bears. Included throughout are facts about polar bears as well as the impact of global climate change on their chances for survival.–

Frances E. Millhouser, formerly at Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA


National Teachers Association

The Polar Bear Scientists
by Peter Lourie

Price at time of review: $18.99
80 pp.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Boston, MA
ISBN: 9780547283050

Grade Level: 4-7

Reviewed by Adah Stock
Master Teacher and a Science Education Consultant

This is another in the much–honored series "Scientists in the Field." The reader learns about polar bears as seen through the eyes of the actual field biologists who gather data on this species.

One cannot stop looking at the amazing photos of the bears in their habitat as soon as you open up this book. Every page is filled with photos of scientists at work, the equipment they use, and a few maps. Through photos and text the reader can follow all aspects of the preparation, the capturing, the gathering of data, the release of the bears, and the analysis of collected data. The photos alone are really something to enjoy about this book. One great image compares the snow print of a human boot with the back paw print of a young male bear. These amazing photos are accompanied by very descriptive narrative that informs the reader about the many challenges these scientists have to overcome to do their job. It also makes the reader aware of why these people work so hard at what they do.

Relating the habits of the polar bear is important. Their decline in population is a major concern with the advent of global climate change and the loss of polar ice. Through deeper knowledge of their world, scientists might better address and hopefully reverse this decline.

Included with the narrative text are eight short, highlighted narratives. These narratives cover conversations with several scientists, the 2008 Threatened Species designation, a description about equipment needed, what is being recorded, such as biomedical impedance analysis, radio collars for the bears, and a look toward the future of polar bears. The narrative detail is very complete and there is no part of the capture process that is not described from start to finish. The book’s narrative details the rewards and the challenges of the process of doing science in a very difficult and challenging field situation.

This volume is arranged in five major sections grouped into first, information about the Polar Bear Research Project, two different capture experiences, recording information, and, lastly, the section called "Searching for the Bone Pile" which describes what researchers do when the data from the radio collars stops. There is a short glossary for terms that are already explained in the text and a page of basic polar bear information. At the end of the book are two pages of suggested books, websites and quotes sources, and a final page for an index. Due to the small print in the text, the even smaller photo caption print, the higher level vocabulary, and the large quantity of details, this book would be good for secondary level students either in a classroom or a school library. For a younger child, the photos would be a good draw for learning more about this species. For those readers who are concerned with our vanishing wildlife and want to know more about what is being done to save them, especially the polar bear, this book is a must–read.


Science Books & Films

Feb 2013 Issue

Lourie, Peter. The Polar Bear Scientists. (Illus.; from the Scientists in the Field Series.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2012. 80pp. $18.99. 2011003449. ISBN 9780547283050. Glossary; Index;

C.I.P.EI-YA **

Impressively, Peter Lourie describes the "real life" daily world of polar bear biologists. He describes data collection, not just the glamour of handling anesthetized polar bears, but also the details of preparing for fieldwork and entering data after a long day in the field. He connects data collection with the need for data because data by itself is not science. Data must be part of a methodical system of inquiry. Lourie alludes to the larger questions and squarely provides evidence for the need to collect data. He portrays scientists as tangible people and may inspire students to pursue careers as scientists. We need books that do all this. Lourie also accurately depicts wildlife biology as a career. As a professor of a wildlife biology program, I was impressed that he conveyed, in fewer than 100 pages, concepts that we teach in our bachelor's degree in wildlife science. Although a college program goes into more detail, Lourie provides substantial details that I have not read in a book about wildlife biology that was meant for the general public, and school age readers at that! The photos are distinctive and uniquely suited for the theme of the book. For instance, one photo has a sketch overlaying the bear's body to illustrate the best places to administer anesthetic from a dart gun. The work is accurate and has broader applications to science in general. This book should sit on the library shelves of grade and high schools to encourage students to explore science as a career.--Jorie M. Favreau, Paul Smith's College, Paul Smith's, NY