Our family has long enjoyed realistic stories written about animals in the wild that revolve around the author’s first-hand observation or research of the animal’s behaviour. Sadly, this style of writing seems to be on the decline, far too little has been produced since the heyday of wildlife fiction master Thomas Ernest Seton. As a result, the great anticipation that I felt upon discovering a series of wildlife fiction written for children by Shirley Woods was understandable.
Tooga: The Story of a Polar Bear follows a young male polar bear from his time in utero through to the beginning of his life as an independent young adult. Drawing from research and interviews with those intimately familiar with the lives of polar bears and first-hand investigation of the terrain, Woods sets his tale on the northern coast of Labrador, Canada.
Children can follow Tooga’s mother through her preparation for the birth of her cubs, through their sheltered infancy and on to their first forays out onto the ice. When Tooga is nearly old enough to set out on his own he finds himself stranded on a southbound piece of ice, heading towards civilization and run-ins with humankind.
Filled densely with factual information relating to the habits, growth, mating, environment, and nearly all other aspects of a polar bear’s life; Woods' depiction of life in the north and on the ice fascinated my children when we read this title aloud at bedtimes. Though I found the work somewhat lacking in emotional resonance, my six-year-old absolutely loved the wealth of detail woven throughout the text as the life of Tooga’s family is described in the third-person. “I love it mommy, it has so much information in it!” she seriously shared with me when I asked her opinion.
Unlike the works of well-known authors such as Thornton Burgess and Seton, Woods’ animals do not communicate in imagined dialogue. Theirs is a realistically depicted life, filled only with those methods of communication that we can observe – body language and bear vocalizations.
Tooga is equipped with all the niceties that round out an educational book choice: a map of Tooga’s journeys, notes from the author that give insight into his sources, and an impressive four-page glossary of words that may be unfamiliar or require additional explanation. Lovely, detailed line drawings from illustrator Muriel Wood bring the wildlife in Tooga’s ecosystem to life, though my little ones did find the images somewhat hard to decipher without some guidance from mom.
To date there has been little to choose from in the way of living science books for the less written about animals that Woods works with (polar bears, beavers, foxes etc.). I’m glad to recommend the inclusion of his brief, educational animal adventure stories for educational libraries everywhere.