Title: My Father is a Polar Bear
Author: Michael Morpurgo
Illustrator: Felicita Sala
Publisher: Walker Books
Genre: Children’s fiction
Book format: Paperback
Sweet Strawberries: Sweet StrawberrySweet StrawberrySweet Strawberry

Description:  Drawing on Michael Morpurgo’s own childhood experience of first seeing his real father on television, My Father Is a Polar Bear tells the story of two young brothers rediscovering their birth father in the most unlikely of places – and in an entirely unexpected guise! A warm and delightful tale of family bonds and love told by a master storyteller and beautifully illustrated by a talented new artist.

*Free copy provided by publisher for review…

Review:  Young boy Andrew wants to find his father with his brother Terry. But Terry shows him a picture of their father…He’s a polar bear.

This is a strange tale and I’m not sure it’s one I enjoyed as much as other work by Morpurgo. The book is A5 in size, paperback, and is filled with glossy pages and many illustrations, the style like the one on the front cover. The story is about two boys who don’t know who their real father is and, told from Andrew’s point of view, his older brother Terry not only knows who their father is but where to find him.

The story is set in the past, beginning in 1948, and follows the boys search for their father. While the overall story is a nice one and has a heartwarming end, this book just didn’t sit right with me. For a start much of the language used is too old for the younger kids this is targeted at, with words like ‘furore’ and ‘timorously’. These words will leave many kids struggling to understand and better and easier vocabulary could have been used for a young children’s book. The second is the overall story. While it has a lovely end and the final image on the back did make me smile, this feels a little too simple and the overall message of finding your father a one-sided one.

Throughout the book the boys focus on their real father, they have a step father but both he and their mother are constantly dismissed. The mother has reasons she doesn’t want to state who their father is but we never know why and the love from both the mother and step father feels unimportant, sort of second to the mission of finding their Polar Bear father. I think the problem I have with this book is that society is just so different now. While the message of divorce and losing one parent is one that can affect children, this book makes it feel as if only the ‘real’ parent is important and no step parent can ever replace them.

The book has some lovely illustrations. The images of the polar bear as well as the boys look great. As the boys age you can still clearly see who is who and I like the quite simple style of the images.

The story is set in the past and is inspired by with Morpurgo’s own experience of seeing his own father for the first time written into this tale. The overall message is one of happiness of finding your biological parent and this is a lovely message but perhaps it should have been written in a more autobiographical way rather than a children’s fiction book. With one parent or step parent families being far more prominent in today’s society I can’t help but feel that this book is written in the wrong time and a bit naïve in it’s overall plot.

-Review first appeared online November 2016 – now republished here.

Do you like this book?  What do you think of books that are inspired by real life experiences?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂