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The Very, Very Far North

Illustrated by Kelly Pousette

About The Book

“Wonderfully follows in the tradition of A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories...Endearing...Will win over young readers in a heartbeat.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Quirky and imaginative—postmodern storytelling at its best.” —Kirkus Reviews

An inquisitive polar bear named Duane befriends an array of animals as he discovers where he belongs in this charming classic-in-the making.

In the Very, Very Far North, past the Cold, Cold Ocean and just below the hill that looks like a baby whale, you’ll find Duane and his friends.

Duane is a sweet and curious young bear who makes friends with everyone he meets—whether they’re bossy, like Major Puff the puffin, or a bit vain, like Handsome the musk ox, or very, very shy, like Boo the caribou. For these arctic friends, every day is a new adventure!


The Very, Very Far North

AS THE STORY GOES, before there was Duane, there was C.C. Ask any of his friends, ask Sun Girl or Squint, and they would tell you the same.

One day, which is to say one Thursday, because all good stories start on a Thursday, Duane lumbered into the Very, Very Far North from somewhere else. It wasn’t planned. It wasn’t expected. But it was summertime, so in a drowsy, lackadaisical frame of mind, Duane followed the shoreline of the Cold, Cold Ocean, paying no attention to anything other than the sound of the gentle lapping water. Eventually, he found himself on a beach that slanted at just the right angle to make it ideal for napping. Even better, behind the beach were marshes filled with long, tasty grass, and set farther back were bushes and bushes of delicious wild berries.

Duane prized three activities above all others. Since two of them happened to be napping and eating, he found this place to be more than agreeable. In fact, right then a nap was insisting itself upon Duane, who yawned in complete agreement. But when Duane stretched himself on his back to warm his tummy in the summer sun at just the right angle, his eyes caught sight of something curious off the coast. It was a ship, or rather, it was a shipwreck. Duane was not well-informed enough to know what either a ship or a shipwreck was, but I can tell all of you who do know that the tall wooden ship that had run aground was old. Only one of the three masts remained unbroken, and none still held its sails. The hull listed to one side, and a very large, splintery gash marred the bow.

Duane studied the shipwreck with great interest because Duane was a polar bear in possession of a curious nature. In the right situation, a nap and a snack could sometimes be put off for a little exploring. Exploring was Duane’s other most favorite activity. Toward the Cold, Cold Ocean he went, and with a splash, he was soon paddling to where his curiosity led.

He reached the shipwreck, swimming right through the gap, as the ship did not lack for seawater within, which sloshed back and forth against the thick wooden ribs of its dark belly. Duane swam toward midship, where a set of steep stairs invited him up to a level still inside the ship but above the water’s surface. With a couple of shakes, Duane dried himself off and began his exploring in earnest. Along the corridor were several rooms, some filled with boxes, others containing strange items he couldn’t name, but sadly, none, as far as his nose could tell, had anything to do with food. At the very end of the passageway was a door, slightly ajar with light spilling out. Also spilling out was the sound of a well-spoken voice. The voice was speaking Latin, which you may know, but Duane did not, nor do I, so I’m afraid I cannot translate.

“Cogito, cogitas, cogitat.”

How curious, thought Duane, making his way closer. Written on the door with beautiful flourishes in gold paint was a name, but time had faded most of the letters away so all that remained were two capital Cs. Duane, however, mistook them for two round eyes. When he pushed his snout through a gap, he was able to glimpse who was talking in that mysterious language.

“Ego descite, discis, et discit.”

Perched upon a wide oak table, among more strange items, Duane spied a snowy owl reading from a large open book. I would hasten to add that she was a very serious-looking owl, but I’m not sure if owls come in any other variety.

“Hello,” said Duane.

“Rogo, rogas, rogat—” The owl paused, looked up from the book, and rotated her head toward Duane. “Who might you be?” she inquired.

Here was a question never asked of Duane before. He gave it serious thought because he suspected that this was what the owl would want. “Well, I might be Kevin or Trevor . . . but I’d prefer to be myself, Duane.”

“Duane the polar bear.”

“Am I?” asked Duane.

“Most certainly,” said the owl with a curt nod. “I can show you a drawing of a creature that quite resembles you, and beneath the drawing it states emphatically that you are a polar bear.”

Using her wing, the owl flipped quickly through many pages of the book that sat on the table in front of her until she stopped and pointed with her other wing. Duane ventured closer and looked over the owl’s shoulder. “Huh! So I am.”

“And will you, Duane the polar bear, be staying here?”

“Here?” Duane looked around the room, with its many bookshelves and metal objects and such. Everything looked hard and had sharp edges. Other than the back wall, which consisted of mainly windows that allowed in lots of light, it was not nap-friendly in the least. And besides, wouldn’t it be an imposition? Duane felt he wasn’t anything more than an uninvited guest or a well-intentioned intruder. “Isn’t this your home?”

“It wasn’t at first, but it is now. I’ve grown fond of the library and the scientific instruments.”

“I’m not sure that I’d be comfortable here myself.”

“According to this book, you prefer living in snow caves.”

“According to me, as well,” agreed Duane, who considered himself more and more of an expert on the subject.

“However, we’re currently short of snow, it being summer. If you are willing to adapt, there is a rock cave not far from the beach you were about to take a nap upon. Follow me and I’ll show you.”

The owl took off from the table, flew out of one of the open windows, and then upward out of sight. Two polar-bear blinks later, she returned to find Duane standing exactly where she left him. “I should have mentioned that there is a set of stairs at the far end of the corridor that leads above deck.”

“Ah,” said Duane in understanding.

When they reunited atop the broken ship, Duane had thought up a question. “How did you know I was going to nap on the beach?”

“I used this telescope,” she said, flying over to the ship’s bow and perching upon a long brass tube mounted on a tripod. “Come look through this end.”

Duane did, and sure enough, there was the beach and the delicious grass and berry bushes, as if they were close enough to nibble on. But when the owl tilted the opposite end of the telescope up a bit, Duane could see a rock cave built into a hillside behind a field.

“It’s a very large cave,” explained the owl, “big enough for a polar bear’s needs, and not presently occupied.”

Duane had come from somewhere else, and now he was here. But what was here? Here was an excellent cave, and here was a perfect beach, and here was a place with plenty to eat. More importantly, even to a polar bear that puts napping and eating high on his priority list, here was a snowy owl nearby. She seemed very smart. She seemed very helpful. She seemed as if she could be a friend.

“I’ll take it,” said Duane, resolute. “Thank you, See-See.”

The owl now seemed surprised and puzzled. She flew off the telescope and landed a few feet away upon the unbroken mast. “Why did you call me C.C.?”

“It was on the door of your room. Two big round eyes to see with. I assumed it was your name.” What Duane did not know, but which I will tell you right now, is that before that moment, the owl had never been called See-See or C.C. It is still unclear whether the owl had any name at all prior to the one Duane gave her. Duane would eventually give names to all of his friends except for one, but C.C., as I shall now spell it, was his first. “Is it not your name?”

“It wasn’t, but on consideration, I think it shall be,” replied C.C. with another curt nod. “You’re very good at giving names, Duane the polar bear.”

This made Duane very happy, not just because he discovered a new talent, but also because giving a compliment is what friends do, and C.C. had done just that.

So Duane swam back from the shipwreck to claim his new home. He discovered that inside the cave was a soft feather mattress, somewhat old and musty, but still bliss to lie upon. Duane was enthralled.

Before he tucked in for the night, Duane stood silently at the mouth of his cave to take in the lovely view. In the far distance, he saw the Cold, Cold Ocean and the shipwreck. At a closer distance, the Fabulous Beach, as he would now call it, and closer still, the marshes and the berry bushes. In the field just below him, to his surprise, he spotted a musk ox. The musk ox was standing beside a pond, staring lovingly at his own reflection. Whether that musk ox had a name prior to when Duane came along is also up for debate, but for now, let us end this story with Duane drifting off to sleep on his soft feather mattress, wondering about that musk ox and hoping that they too might eventually become friends.

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide for

The Very, Very Far North

Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North

By Dan Bar-el

Illustrated by Kelly Pousette

About the Books

Duane the polar bear loves his arctic home, where life is full of possibilities: new friends to meet, walks to take, and plenty of adventures to embark on. Along the way, he meets an array of charming characters including Handsome, a vain but kind musk ox; Magic, a mischievous arctic fox; and C.C., a scientifically minded snowy owl. With every adventure, the inhabitants of the Very, Very Far North learn new lessons about what it means to be a friend and how to look out for one another.

Discussion Questions

1. Both The Very, Very Far North and Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North are described as “books for gentle readers and listeners.” What are the characteristics of a gentle person? What do you think it means to be a gentle reader or a gentle listener?

2. Both books are set in a region similar to the Arctic; you may be surprised that the characters experience a change of seasons. What are the different seasons like in the far, far north? What do the characters like best about each season? If you visited Duane, which season do you think you’d like the best? What would you tell them about the seasons you experience?

3. How can you tell that Major Puff is not as brave as he thinks he is? Why do you think he feels like he has to act as if he’s brave all the time? If you could give him advice, what would you tell him?

4. If you could pick one of the characters in the book to be friends with, who would you choose and why? If you spent a day with them, what would you want to do together? What would you like to talk to them about?

5. Why do you think Duane lets Magic talk him into riding the toboggan down Baby Humpback Hill even though he knows it’s dangerous? What lesson does he learn as a result? How could you respond if a friend asked you to do something that you were uncomfortable doing?

6. Each of the characters has a very distinctive personality. Think of three adjectives that you would use to describe each character and then give an example of a time in the books when they demonstrated these characteristics. How do these personalities play into the characters’ relationships with one another?

7. What is the difference between an exploring walk and a thinking walk? Which kind of walk do you think you would like to take? Explain your answers.

8. What does it mean to say something is “a possibility”? Why do you think Duane likes having a clock that keeps possibilities instead of keeping time? If you could choose a special clock like Duane’s, what would you want it to keep track of?

9. What does it mean to be a good friend? What specific things do the characters that live in the far, far north do to demonstrate their friendship? Explain your answers using examples from the books.

10. What can the animals’ attitudes toward Boo and C.C. teach you about how to make friends and be a good friend to someone who is shy or has trouble relating to others? What might you say to someone who is new to your class or neighborhood?

11. How does C.C. respond when Handsome accuses her of not appreciating beauty and poetry? How is her perspective of snow’s beauty different from Handsome’s perspective? What does Handsome learn by looking at snow through C.C.’s eyes? What is something that you think is beautiful? How would you describe it to someone?

12. Why do you think Weasel is so angry all the time? Why do you think he tries to cause trouble? Explain your answers. What do the other animals learn about dealing with his troublemaking?

13. What makes Major Puff afraid of migrating during the second winter? Why does he decide to migrate anyway? Would you have made a similar choice? Explain your answer.

14. What does Twitch do to help manage her anxious feelings over Major Puff’s absence? How do her friends help her? When you are worried or fearful, what helps you feel better?

15. Even though they did not mean to hurt Boo’s feelings, Magic and the other animals’ actions were very hurtful. What do they do to make amends? Have you ever unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings? How did you make it right?

16. At the Balancing Show, everyone takes turns doing an act that represents something that scares them. What is something that scares you? If you were asked to be in a Balancing Show, what act would you choose to do?

17. When Duane is sad about Handsome leaving, what does he do to work through his feelings? What does Boo do to help him feel better? Have you ever missed someone? How do you stay in touch with the people you care about?

Extension Activities

Mapping the Very, Very Far North

Use details you find in the books to create a map of the Very, Very Far North. Make sure to indicate the location of each character’s den, field, home, or burrow along with important locations and landmarks, such as the Mainly Frozen Cold Ocean, the river, and the three Humpback Whale Hills. How does this help you visualize the stories? Was there anything you were surprised to notice?

A Very, Very Impressive Vocabulary

Handsome, the musk ox, takes pride in his appearance and adherence to the rules of etiquette. He also uses more formal language than the other characters as a way to demonstrate his education. Create an illustrated book depicting Handsome’s impressive vocabulary words. Try using them with some of your friends or classmates.

Letters from a Polar Bear

The first book ends with a letter from Duane to the reader. Choose one of the characters in the book and write a letter to them. Tell them a bit about yourself and where you live, and ask them questions you have after reading the books. To extend this activity, exchange letters with a classmate and respond to their letter as if you were a character in the book.

Live from the Very, Very Far North

The author, Dan Bar-el, notes that his books are for “gentle readers and listeners.” There are qualities in his writing that make his books especially appropriate to be read aloud, including a strong sense of character voice and generous use of imagery and sound devices like alliteration. Choose a section of the book to read aloud, trying to capture the different character voices. You may want to do this as a reader’s theater script or puppet show, or using digital animation.

Arctic Exploration

While Dan Bar-el’s books are set in a fictional land called the Very, Very Far North, the characters are based on real arctic animals and people. Research the real-life Arctic and compare the characters in the book with the real animals and people that inspired the creation of Duane and his friends. What information did you find most interesting? What was most surprising?

The Scientific Process

C.C. loves to make scientific observations and conduct scientific experiments. What steps does she take when she wants to learn the answer to a question? Examine a question you have about the formation of ice or the properties of salt water and develop an experiment to test your hypothesis. Record all your observations and your conclusion just as C.C. would.

Guide prepared by Amy Jurskis, English Department Chair at Oxbridge Academy.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit or

About The Author

Photograph © Dan Bar-el

Dan Bar-el is an award-winning children’s author, educator, and storyteller whose books include Audrey (Cow), Not Your Typical Dragon, and The Very, Very Far North series. Dan has worked with children ages three to thirteen as a school-age childcare provider, a preschool teacher, a creative drama teacher, and a creative writing teacher. He also teaches with the Creative Writing for Children Society. Dan lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with artist and goldsmith Dominique Bréchault, and Sasha, the most adorable cat in the known universe. Visit him at

About The Illustrator

Photograph © Kelly Pousette

Kelly Pousette is the illustrator of The Very, Very Far North series and a storyteller, originally from the west coast of British Columbia. She loves to create things, especially pictures. Her work has been featured in The Huffington Post Paris, the Brown Paper Bag blog, and Brightness Magazine. She currently resides in northern British Columbia with her husband and very large dog, Clovis. 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (October 6, 2020)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534433427
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12
  • Lexile ® 840L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Raves and Reviews

* “Wonderfully follows in the tradition of A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories. . . . Pousette’s soft pencil illustrations work in absolute harmony with the text, accomplishing the seemingly impossible task of making this book even more endearing. Gentle humor, a personable narrative voice, and some elevated vocabulary fortify the simple, character-driven adventures, which will win over young readers in a heartbeat.”

– Booklist, starred review

"Quirky and imaginative—postmodern storytelling at its best."

– Kirkus Reviews

“Duane is kin to Winnie the Pooh, with an affable nature and an endearing cluelessness that leads to moments of sage wisdom. The fourteen episodic chapters following the adventures of Duane and his buddies focus on friendship with a special emphasis on accepting and respecting differences among pals. . . . Direct addresses from the narrator invite youngsters in with gentle humor, and Pousette’s illustrations, black and white spot art appearing with pleasant frequency, give the animal characters an appealing toylike sensibility. This would make a fine companion to Milne’s classic or Lobel’s Frog and Toad, like those serving as a satisfying readaloud as well as a readalone; kiddos whose tastes tend toward the cozy will find warmth and comfort in Duane’s frosty world.”


"A tender early chapter book that will appeal to young readers.”

– School Library Connection

“Each character is well developed and the kindness with which these friends treat each other is instructive without being didactic. . . . The rich language and wordplay make for an excellent read-aloud. Recommended, especially as a read-aloud, for fans of classics like A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, or for those seeking a solid demonstration of positive social interaction.”

– School Library Journal

Awards and Honors

  • Colorado Children’s Book Award Nominee

Resources and Downloads

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More books from this author: Dan Bar-el

More books from this illustrator: Kelly Pousette

More books in this series: The Very, Very Far North