JUST BEYOND THE VERY, VERY FAR NORTH
a further story for gentle readers and listeners
Written by Dan Bar-El
Illustrated by Kelly Pousette
Atheneum BYR; October 2020
264 Pages Age 8—12
Genre: Middle Grade Book, Fiction
Themes: Friendships, Secrets, Forgiveness
In the Very, Very Far North, Duane the polar bear and his friends are sure to make you feel right at home. You might share a delicious Snow Delight with warmhearted Duane. While you’re slurping away, C. C. the snowy owl suddenly asks you where you’ve come from, it’s not because she’s nosy; she is simply gathering scientific data. If Handsome the musk ox pays a visit, a quick hair combing is highly recommended. Should you notice a quiet caribou grazing nearby, well, that’s just Boo’s way of saying hello.
And if a less-than-friendly visitor arrives to sneak, shove, and shake things up, Duane and his friends might discover that life isn’t always as peaceful as a mid-late-afternoon nap. Fortunately, they know that change is as much a part of life as picnics and Tuesdays and cozy stories shared among friends. (from book jacket)
“If you head north, true north, to the truly north part of north, where icebergs shiver, where thermometers lose confidence, and where snowflakes prefer to avoid, and then once you reach that north, you go just a little bit further north, that’s where you’ll find Duane the polar bear and his friends.”
Why I like Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North
Duane the polar bear, and his arctic friends, are back with new stories of their lives in the very, very far north; only this time they are just beyond that north. In case you have forgotten all but your favorite, Duane’s friends include: C.C. the snowy owl (she’s a scientist with very little social skills), Handsome the musk ox (he is etiquette obsessed and a compulsive hair groomer), Magic the arctic fox (she’s mischievous and often dramatically impatient) , Major Puff the puffin (he’s still in conflict with the great black-backed gulls and happily living with Twitch), Twitch the arctic hare (she’s an accomplished baker of nibbles who adores her roommate), and Boo the caribou (she is extremely shy and quiet, yet holding a secret close to her heart).
Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North introduces a new character; one not welcome this far north. Weasel (refuses to give his name) loves to antagonize Duane and his friends. This rude weasel rummages through Duane’s handless grandfather clock uninvited, waking Duane. Not being able to find what he claims to have left, he blames Duane for its disappearance. Worse than this, the snarky weasel entices some of the friends to worry and other friends to do things that cause trouble for others. I believe the weasel tries to destroy this group of friends because he is jealous of everyone’s good life just beyond the very, very far north.
As with The Very, Very Far North, Just Beyond is one of those books you will not put down. Each story is as humorous and memorable as the last. With eighteen chapters gracing the pages, there is three wonder-filled weeks of bedtime reading or listening at one chapter a night (though just beyond seven days if read two chapters a night). I read this is in a couple of days, each time mesmerized by the antics of these cold weather friends.
Kids will love reading, or listening to, all the stories in Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North. Stories like Major Puff’s annual migration and C.C.’s “chitchat” which makes him worry for the first time. The weasel also adds some paranoia to the Major’s trip. Or the story of Duane’s “adventure hike,” where he finds the Major, though I cannot say where or why. The nasty little weasel also gets to Magic, having her intrude on Boo’s never-seen-by-anyone home to learn her secret. The rude and despicable weasel goes too far when he uses Magic’s abilities (or her foibles), and Boo’s closely held secret to cause group mayhem never before seen this far north.
The black and white illustrations add to the story, giving readers a clear image of the characters. An illustration above each chapter title gives a glimpse into the story to come. My favorite art is of Handsome looking through a microscope C.C. set up to show him his poetry about the snowflake is scientifically incorrect. The upset musk ox becomes mesmerized by the images he sees, which proves no two snowflakes are alike.
On occasion the narrator will speak directly to the reader. His intrusions are not at all intrusive. The narrator tends to explain something that would not fit into the narrative but needs to be told. These witty little notes often give readers the sense of being with, of sitting in front of the narrator as he tells the story. The first instance of intrusion will delight writers told never to begin a story with a sleeping/dreaming character. Eight pages in the narrator steps in to explain that “nothing in this story so far is real.” Kids will love the cacophony of terrifying noise and Duane’s reaction . . . and then he wakes up to his real scream. Each story is as lively as this nightmare.
Comparing The Very, Very Far North (review here) and Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North is inevitable. Suffice it to say each book can stand alone or even, if readers so desire, read in opposite order. Not having read The Very, Very Far North will not lessen one’s enjoyment of Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North. In the latter, characters are reintroduced in a short introduction prior to chapter one.
Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North is perfect for children younger than eight who like to listen to bedtime stories. The eight to twelve age range, and beyond, will enjoy reading the imaginative storylines and meeting these lovable characters. Duane and company are good-hearted, generous, and caring; all traits children can emulate.
If forced to choose a favorite story it would be C.C. Makes Her Point (chapter 7). In the previous chapter, Handsome, who prefers to speak poetically, recites his poem about snowflakes. Each characteristic he mentions C.C. interrupts to say it is incorrect. Handsome accuses her of being unable to understand poetry or see beauty in the world (she being about facts and figures). C.C. invites Handsome and Duane to the Shipwreck where she shows Handsome what a real snowflake looks like when magnified with her microscope. Duane and Handsome become so enthused at the images they race to catch new snowflakes, anxious to see how each is different and much more. Poor C.C. has trouble becoming part of the group, but this time she and Handsome and Duane definitely bond.
Illustrations Rendered in charcoal and digital.
To Learn More About Author Dan Bar-El: https://danbarel.com/
To Learn More About Illustrator Kelly Pousette : https://www.instagram.com/kpousetteillustration/
Available at Amazon: Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North
JUST BEYOND THE VERY, VERY FAR NORTH. Text Copyright © 2020 by Dan Bar-El. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Kelly Pousette. Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster Children’s Division, New York, NY.
Copyright © 2020 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved
[754—word count-review only]
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