Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North by Dan Bar-el, illustrated by Kelly Pousette

Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North by Dan Bar-el,
illustrated by Kelly Pousette
Simon and Schuster/Atheneum BFYR, 2020, 272 pages
We have been experiencing some really tense days lately, so it was such a pleasure to return to the very, very far north and the always charming polar bear Duane, who has just woken up from a long winter's nap. Venturing out of his cave, he finds his friends all waiting for him. There's C.C, the scholarly snowy owl, puffin Major Puff, arctic hare Twitch, Magic, the arctic fox, Handsome, the musk ox, and of course, shy caribou Boo (yes, you may recall how talented Duane is at naming his friends from the first book).
Duane and friends (pg. 5)
But a long winter's nap has left Duane hungry, and so the friends all decide to picnic down on the Fabulous Beach. But, lately there is a new presence in the very, very far north, a sarcastic weasel who loves to cause disruption and trouble. Duane first meets him in his cave where the no-name weasel informs him that, well, his life isn't happy and wonderful as he thinks it is. Sooner or later, cracks begin to form in friendships, and friends drift further and further apart. 

Always the optimist, Duane doesn't buy the weasel's point of view, until...maybe the weasel is right. For example, when Major Puff realizes it's time to migrate south, he also thinks that this year he really doesn't want to go. All kinds of dreadful things could happen while flying back and forth, and besides, the burrow he shares with Twitch is so warm and comfortable. Leave it to the weasel to convince Major Puff to head south despite his reservations by casting doubt that his friends really care about him. 

But most egregious of all is when the nameless weasel sets Magic to discover shy Boo's secret, and at the weasel's urging, he in turn inadvertently sets up Duane, Handsome, C.C., and Major Puff up to witness it. When Boo realizes that they have discovered it, she is beyond devastated. How could friends betray her like that? Some secrets are just not meant to be shared. 
Boo (pg. 181)
These two incidents and more certainly make it feel as though the weasel is right about friendships...or maybe he's at the center of all the trouble. But just when it seems that Duane's gentle, pleasant circle of friends are about to drift apart, Duane takes a thinking walk and comes up with what he hopes will be the perfect solution for repairing the cracks that have formed, before they get too deep.

Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North is every bit gentle and calming as the first that introduced readers to Duane and friends, The Very, Very Far North. There's a lot of emotional growing in these latest adventures - learning the saying you are sorry to someone often isn't enough, instead action speaks louder than words, that that turns out to be the case with Boo and her friends. And taking responsibility for your actions is an important lesson for Magic. But most of all, forgiveness is the hardest lesson. 

I really enjoyed spending more time with Duane and friends. Life at the moment is a little chaotic for everyone, and Dan Bar-el's novels are a great escape from all that. Young readers will find that besides the messages regarding friends, there is plenty of humor throughout the story, as well as lots of little details about everyone's arctic life. And readers of the first book will be happy to see the reappearance of the Sun Girl and her Pack playing an important part this this story.

Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North is an ideal book for lower middle grade readers and reluctant readers, as well as kids who love animal stories. I can't recommend it highly enough. 

There is a useful, detailed group reading guide available from the publisher, Simon and Schuster, HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was an eARC gratefully received from the publisher.

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