Search form

Take a Brrr-eak for Some Cool Winter Reading!

Share Warm up this winter with some cool new books about the North Pole, blizzards, and ice skating. They are among the b-b-best of the new winter b-b-books!


Into the Ice CoverInto the Ice: The Story of Arctic Exploration (Houghton Mifflin, 1998) is a fascinating chronicle of the history of the Far North by author Lynn Curlee (Ships of the Air). In this new book, Curlee blends legend and fact about explorers who've braved "one of the bleakest and most treacherous environments on earth."

"Yet the lands and seas that surround the North Pole teem with animal life," writes Curlee. And people live in this land of contradictions too. For thousands of years, the Inuit people thought they were the only people on earth. But they learned the truth as explorers arrived from across the globe -- and that's where Into the Ice picks up.

The earliest voyage into the land of the Inuit was a trip of discovery made around 500 B.C. by the Greek merchant Pytheas. Pytheas called the land he found six days north of the British Isles ultima Thule, meaning "the farthest place known to exist." But the ancient Greeks and Romans believed that beyond the frozen north there was another land, a land of pleasant breezes and happy people.

During the Age of Exploration, greediness supplanted the higher ideals of early explorers as the motivation for sailing into icy arctic waters. The furs of polar animals were in demand in Europe. So was the oil of whale blubber, used for lighting and heating, and the baleen of the whale, which was used to make umbrellas and corsets.

Curlee tells of many failures among the Arctic voyages. One of the greatest failures of all was the voyage of Sir John Franklin in 1845. Franklin and his crew of 129 disappeared and were never heard from again. The story was gradually pieced together. It's a tale of cold and sickness, of icy graves and cannibalism -- the "worst of all Arctic disasters."

Another failure was the hot air balloon expedition in 1897 of a Swedish engineer, Salomon Andree. It wasn't until 33 years later that the bodies of Andree and his two companions were found -- along with Andree's journal and some undeveloped film.

By this time, for many, glory had replaced commercial endeavors as the motivating reason for exploration. Glory was certainly the reason for the expeditions of Robert E. Peary, the man many believe to be the first to set foot on the North Pole. The expeditions of Peary and countless others provided a clearer picture of the treachery of the North Pole. Those expeditions also changed forever the lives of the Inuit people. (Today, most Inuit live in prefabricated homes, watch TV, and drive snowmobiles.) Lynn Curlee's telling of those stories -- and his brilliant acrylic paintings in vibrant hues that bring to life the explorers' adventures -- will forever change the image young readers have of the icy Arctic.

Into the Ice is a teachable moment waiting to happen. The stories rivet, and will motivate upper elementary and middle schoolers to learn more about the brave explorers and the unforgiving arctic environment. The book begs to be turned into a timeline by students, and Curlee even includes a timeline, a map showing explorers' routes, and suggestions for further reading in the book's appendix.


Magic on the Ice Cover

"At my first two Nationals I came in last. If there had been a space below last, I would have placed there. So never give up."

Those are the words of one of the most talented and well-liked figure skating champions of all time -- Scott Hamilton! Seems hard to believe that Hamilton ever finished last, but he did. Therein lies a message that all students might learn about perseverance.

But readers of Magic on Ice, a new large-size paperback by skating pro Patty Cranston (Kids Can Press, 1998), will learn much more as Cranston takes readers inside the world of figure skating -- where world class skaters have just four minutes to prove they're the best -- where one little slip in perfection can make the difference between a medal and no medal.

After offering a little bit of history about the evolution of ice skates and ice skating, Cranston focuses on the sport of figure skating. She briefly mentions names from the past, including Dick Button, Sonja Henie, and Ulrich Salchow (for whom a skating move is named). Then she triple jumps into the nuts and bolts of the sport as only an insider can explain them:

  • Which is more tiring, a spin or a jump? (The answer might surprise you.)

  • How do skaters learn to do some of the complicated jumps? (A photo shows a harnessed skater learning how to do a difficult jump.)

  • Did you know that Elvis Stojko always ties up his left skate first?

  • How do coaches know if a figure skater has what it takes to be a star?

  • What does it mean when a skater "pops" a jump?

  • Did you know that the world championships of figure skating were held outdoors until 1968?

  • How does it feel to judge a world skating championship? Those are some of the things readers will learn in the pages of Magic on Ice.

The book closes with advice for future figure skaters from six respected coaches; and a look at some of the greatest skaters of recent memory and some future stars to keep your eyes on.

If it's minute detail that you're looking for, Magic on Ice might not be the source you want to run to. But if a fast-paced, heavily illustrated (with beautiful photographs), and interesting behind-the-scenes look at figure skating is your desire, then this slim volume will surely fill the bill.


Blizzards CoverBlizzards! is a new paperback in Scholastic's Hello Reader! science series. In this new book -- written with second and third graders in mind -- students get shovels full of science along with a dusting of history, geography, and safety.

Author Lorraine Jean Hopping has done her research. She examines some of history's most famous blizzards in stories her readers will relate to. For example, during the blizzard of 1888

  • Teacher Minnie Freeman tied her 13 charges together with twine so they wouldn't become separated as she led them from their sod schoolhouse, which was being ripped apart by the blizzard's howling wind, to the safety of a sturdy wooden shack.

  • As temperatures dipped, teacher Grace McCoy saved her students by burning every table, chair, and stick of wood she could put her hands on.

As it turned out, those teachers and students were among the lucky ones. More than 500 people died in the blizzard of 1888.

Later in Blizzards!, Hopping uses more true stories to instruct about the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia. And all of those stories are used as stepping stones to teaching about some of the science of weather, including

  • What causes a blizzard?
  • What is a windchill and how can it affect temperatures?
  • What is "lake effect" snow?

All of those questions and more are answered in simple words and pictures by Hopping and illustrator Jody Wheeler.

A nice addition to the Hello Reader! series, Blizzard! joins two other books -- about tornadoes and hurricanes -- by the team of Hopping and Wheeler. Why not check out all three? They'd make great additions to any elementary school library!

All three books highlighted in this story are available in bookstores everywhere. If you are unable to locate a title, ask your local bookseller to order it for you, or contact the publisher directly.

  • Into the Ice: The Story of Arctic Exploration, written and illustrated by Lynn Curlee, is published by Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003.
  • Magic on Ice is written by Patty Cranston and published by Kids Can Press, 85 River Rock Drive, Suite, 202, Buffalo, New York 14207.
  • Wild Weather: Blizzards!, written by Lorraine Jean Hopping and illustrated by Jody Wheeler, is published under the Cartwheel Books imprint by Scholastic Inc. Call 1-800-SCHOLASTIC.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1999 Education World

Related Articles from Education World