Goodreads: The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club
Series: The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club #1
Published: October 31, 2017 (2018 in US)
It sounded like a respectable and worthy enough death for an explorer – tumbling from an ice bridge to be impaled upon a mammoth tusk – but Stella really, really didn’t want that to happen, just the same.
Join Stella Starflake Pearl and her three fellow explorers as they trek across the snowy Icelands and come face-to-face with frost fairies, snow queens, outlaw hideouts, unicorns, pygmy dinosaurs and carnivorous cabbages . . .
When Stella and three other junior explorers get separated from their expedition can they cross the frozen wilderness and live to tell the tale?
There are days I wonder how many more books I am going to read based on the premise that “girls aren’t allowed to do something, but then the female main character does it anyway, showing all those pesky men that women are equal,” and I ponder the purpose and value of such stories in a world (ok, the US) where sexism exists but not generally in the form that women are literally not allowed to pursue certain careers simply because they are women. And then there are books that are just so incredibly gripping and well-written that I forget to be bothered by this tired trope. The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club is one of these.
The idea that girls aren’t allowed to be explorers seems entirely unnecessary to the plot and the themes of the novel, and I think the author could have written about Stella going on this grand adventure in the Icelands without making her The First Female Explorer. It really only gives Bell the opportunity to make jokes about how the explorers’ clubs are obsessed with irrelevant manly things like properly trimmed mustaches and oiling their beards instead of with safety or adventuring preparedness. The mustache jokes do run wild and add to the quirky tone of the book, however, and I think they will appeal to a lot of readers.
And beyond my personal hang-up about this issue, The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club is basically the perfect middle grade story. It has charm, imagination, an exciting plot, and a strong cast of characters. Bell has created a world where magic can range from whimsical to dangerous, and sometimes the two get mixed up. And readers are given a protagonist who embraces this world with open arms. Stella has such a great love of life that it’s hard not to get caught up with her.
Her explorer crew is just as lovable…mostly. Some characters take some warming up to, but that’s just good character development. AND my personal favorite thing is the group of animals that get to go on the adventure with them, including miniature penguins and explorer wolves.
If you like middle grade fantasy with creative world building, groups of friends, animal companions, quirky tones, and a bit of magic, this book is for you. I saw a Goodreads review that complained that Bell seemed to be trying to cram everything cool into this book, but…for me that’s a plus. This book has everything cool!