Waiting for Ice
By Sandra Markle; illustrated by Alan Marks
32 pages, for ages 5 – 9
What if you went for a swim and when you came out of the water you couldn’t find your mother? That’s what happens to the young polar bear in Waiting for Ice, a true story about an orphaned cub who, despite the odds, survived on her own.
The young cub is trapped on Wrangle Island, with hundreds of other polar bears, waiting for the Arctic ice to come back. But the weather has been warmer than usual, and the ice is nowhere to be seen. The bears, who would normally be hunting from the ice floes, are running out of food and without a mother to hunt for her, the cub needs to learn how to get her own food.
Most orphaned cubs die of starvation, but this is one scrappy cub. She fights over fish, steals a mouthful of food when she can, and isn’t too proud to beg. She stubbornly fights to live, earning the name “Tuff” bestowed upon her by the scientists studying the island bears.
The book ends when the ice comes in, but the story continues. In an author’s note Sandra Markle explains that Tuff survives, returning to the island the following spring. She also writes about the impact of global warming on polar bears.
“I’ve always been fascinated by polar bears,” says Markle. (This is her fourth book on bears.) She ran across Dr. Nikita Ovsyanikov, the Wrangle Island polar bear scientist, while researching another book. “He told me about “Tuff” and her story stuck in my mind…and I was looking for a way to connect global warming and polar bear behavior.”
Like her other books, Waiting for Ice is grounded in research. Markle interviewed scientists, watched polar bears and read lots of studies. Accuracy is important, she says. At the same time it’s important for the story to be exciting for kids.
“We (writers) have to give kids a way to stand on the shoulders of the scientists so they can see farther,” says Markle. Having taught science, she knows that sharing information is only half the job of a writer. Or teacher. The other half is to help children understand that there is more to learn, and they can be the scientists of the future.
Markle tries to visit the places she writes about – she’s been to Antarctica three times, she says. But not Wrangle Island. So she learned some surprising things in talking with Dr. Ovsyanikov. “I didn’t know how the polar bears behaved when they were trapped,” says Markle. “Not being able to hunt from ice floes changes their behavior, as does the competition for food.”
You can read more about how Sandra Markle came to write Waiting for Ice here. And you can watch a video about the polar bears of Wrangle Island here.