Alfie the Polar Bear loves water. He floats, tumbles and swims. But he can only do the Polar Bear Paddle, and only swim in the baby pool. His brothers, who can swim in the wide open sea, are too busy to help him learn, so Alfie turns to diving bird and seal for help.
The Polar Bear Paddle is prettily illustrated by Karen Sapp in mostly blue and white tones to reflect the ice and water of the polar scenery. The polar bears are cute and fluffy (inaccurately, but it is a children’s book) and generally the characters look appealing. The story will have a lot of resonance with small children who are often reluctant to leave the safety of a toddler pool and go and experience deeper water. The dog-paddle/polar bear paddle parallel works on the grounds that, like Alfie, a child’s baby swimming stroke is just as effective in deep water as it is in shallow. And there is a decent moral of staying true to yourself as Alfie finds he cannot swim like a diving bird or a seal but has to use his own skills.
None of this can really make up for the poor quality of the writing, however. The text blunders its way awkwardly across the page and the sentences are clumsy and ill-constructed. There is little effective emphasis or pacing so the story feels rather flat when read aloud. In addition, there are a number of occasions when the dialogue is unattributed and simply placed next to a character. This seems particularly ill-thought-through when you consider that as a child of this age probably can’t read, they can’t actually tell which words belong to which character – even for an adult it is difficult to read properly. Words like ‘squiggling’ are also used in an irritating manner.
“How do you swim in the sea?”
“I wriggle and squiggle!”
Alfie tried wriggling, but he felt silly.
“That’s it, Alfie!” called Seal. “Keep squiggling!”
Overall The Polar Bear Paddle has worthy intentions but never manages to fulfil them due to the poor quality of the writing.