Winter of the White Bear
About the book
'Winter of the White Bear' blurs the boundaries between fable, folk tale and social realism. It tells of a small forest bear who is orphaned and enslaved by a polar bear, then forced to fish in dangerous icy seas. When the little bear nearly drowns, an ancestral dream puts her in touch with her inner strength so that, with cunning and initiative, she finds a way to break away and return home to freedom.
About the author
Martin Ed Chatterton
Martin Chatterton was born in Liverpool (UK) and attended art college in London. He has worked in publishing and design as an author and illustrator. He has written many children's books for a variety of age ranges and has illustrated more than a hundred books for other writers, including Tony Bradman, Julia Donaldson and Michael Rosen. In 2017 he completed his PhD on the legacy of the 'Atlantic Slave Trade in Liverpool'. A full-time writer, illustrator, film-maker and performer, Martin also collaborates extensively with best-selling author James Patterson, and writes adult crime-fiction for screen under the name Ed Chatterton.
This is a powerful picture book, one which at first glance appears deceptively simple but which carries a strong political message. It is a striking example of an important component of the picture book genre in Australia, books for older readers. It deals with the issue of slavery and forced labour. Although many believe that slavery ended in the 19th century, in fact it still continues and this book emphasises the fact that slavery is not just something that happened in the past. The language used in the book is poetical and lyrical and the book as a whole reads almost like a fable.
Little Bear's father is killed by White Bear who then captures Little Bear and takes her far from her home and forces her to fish for him. Although Little Bear's father is killed early in the story, he remains an important figure in Little Bear's life and is the inspiration and guidance for her eventual escape.
The illustrations are stunning, depicting vast, lonely landscapes which highlight Little Bear's powerlessness and tiny size in contrast to both White Bear and the surrounding countryside. Seascapes also serve to emphasise Little Bear's dislocation from all she knows and her loneliness in this alien world. In addition, the illustrations reflect Chatterton's own fine art practice as well as his homage to some of his favourite artists.
Slavery and forced labour are group exercises, involving many people affecting people the world over. But this book effectively highlights the plight of the many forced into slavery by focussing on Little Bear who becomes emblematic of every person in this position just as White Bear is symbolic of all slavers. The book thus becomes a metaphor for slavery as a whole.
From the front cover, we have a picture of the unequal relationship between the two bears with the blurred outlines of White Bear towering over the tiny figure of Little Bear, alone in the wintry landscape. The journey Little Bear is forced to take is depicted by the vastness of the landscape she has to travel through, taking her further and further from everywhere she knows and from where she lived happily with her father before he was killed by White Bear. Gradually though, as she is forced to work harder and harder for White Bear, her helplessness gradually begins to turn into resourcefulness. Her escape plan is successful but leads to a moral dilemma of whether or not to save White Bear when he falls into the water and starts to drown. The scene will no doubt provoke much discussion amongst readers.
At the back of the book Chatterton explains that his home town of Liverpool was one of the largest slave ports in the world and one of the reasons he wrote this book is that his wife and children are descended from some of those slaves.