Before his eleventh summer, Joseph Morse had never traveled much beyond his native Georgia near the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains. That was to change the day his aunt Kate emailed him from Barrow, Alaska, asking if he could help her tend an orphaned polar bear cub named Delta. With permission from his parents, Joesph spent the summer helping Kate care for Delta in a small research shack in the Arctic Circle.
A Place for Delta by Melissa Walker could have been just another cute animal story geared to a middle reader audience. Instead it is a complex story involving three generations and weaves together environmental issues, politics, danger, intrigue, mystery, friendship, treasures, and even love.
The polar bear cub, Delta, is at the heart of the novel, and as we discover her story, we learn about some of the ways oil companies try to get around environmental restraints on drilling locations and the effects of global warming on polar bear habitats. We are exposed to these issues in a casual manner as Joseph is introduced to Delta and as we read about Kate's research.
Another story line involves solving the mystery of how Delta became orphaned. The researchers, research assistants, and Joseph and his friend Ada all end up investigating the situation, and here's where the action is found. The friendship between Ada and Joseph and the way they work together to find clues not only show that preteen boys and girls can get along but that they can be mutually respectful and equally intelligent.
A Place for Delta packs even more between the covers: life in Barrow, life in Georgia, friendship between professional women, how to rescue a wild animal, cooperation among generations, and some of the ways biological research is conducted.
Walker is never heavy-handed in her messages, making the novel appeal to a wide range of readers. Parents, teachers, and children of all ages who are interested in learning more about polar bears, the Arctic, and the environment will appreciate the glossary and resource section at the back of the book. Other readers will enjoy the novel as an animal story and/or be caught up in the mysteries.
The text is broken up by subtle and lovely etched ink (I think!) illustrations of Delta, and other scenes and Ada and Joseph's notes are rendered as if handwritten. These touches offer periodic small breaks for the young reader.
To learn more about the book, Melissa Walker, Richard Walker (the illustrator), and polar bears, visit the novel's website. A Place for Delta won the 2010 International Book Award for Best Children's Fiction.
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Published by Whale Tale Press, 2010
Source: Review copy (see review policy)
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