LSBBT PROMO AUTHOR INTERVIEW + GIVEAWAY: Journey of the Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher (Middle Grade)


Genre:  Middle Grade / Medieval Historical Fiction(grades 3-7)
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Date of Publication: October 2, 2018Paperback – October 1, 2019
Number of Pages: 302

Scroll down for the giveaway!

A runaway boy befriends a polar bear that’s being transported from Norway to London in this lyrical and timeless adventure story about freedom, captivity, and finding a family.

The polar bear is a royal bear, a gift from the King of Norway to the King of England. The first time Arthur encounters the bear, he is shoved in her cage as payback for stealing food. Restless and deadly, the bear terrifies him. Yet, strangely, she doesn’t harm him—though she has attacked anyone else who comes near. That makes Arthur valuable to the doctor in charge of getting the bear safely to London. So Arthur, who has run away from home, finds himself taking care of a polar bear on a ship to England.

Tasked with feeding and cleaning up after the bear, Arthur’s fears slowly lessen as he begins to feel a connection to this bear, who like him, has been cut off from her family. But the journey holds many dangers, and Arthur knows his own freedom—perhaps even his life—depends on keeping the bear from harm. When pirates attack and the ship founders, Arthur must make a choice—does he do everything he can to save himself, or does he help the bear to find freedom?

Based on the real story of a polar bear that lived in the Tower of London, this timeless adventure story is also a touching account of the bond between a boy and a bear.


Honor Book, Golden Kite Awards, 2019
Vermont’s 2019-2020 Dorothy Canfield Fisher list
2020 Oklahoma Sequoyah Book Award Children’s Masterlist
School Library Connection highly recommended book
Junior Library Guild Selection
50 Must-Read Historical Fiction Books for Kids, bookriot.com

“…a stupendous coming-of-age-tale stuffed with adventure and laced with deeper questions… A richly satisfying story saturated with color, adventure, and heart.” –Kirkus, starred review

“I simply adore this novel. It has it all: gorgeous prose, fascinating history, riveting adventure. But it’s the unlikely tender friendship between a lonely boy and a polar bear that makes this a story to cherish. A lovely little miracle of a book.” 

–Katherine Applegate, Newbery Medal-winning author of The One and Only Ivan

“I loved every single thing about this large-hearted and riveting medieval adventure.” —William Alexander, National Book Award-winning author of Goblin Secrets

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Interview with Susan Fletcher

Where did your love of books come from, and why did you choose to write for kids?

I didn’t become a reader until I was in third grade.  It’s not that I couldn’t read before that.  I mean, I definitely wasn’t one of those people who teach themselves to read at age three and are halfway through The Lord of the Rings before they’ve retired the pacifier.  But I could read. 

What I couldn’t do until third grade was forget that I was reading. I couldn’t drop down inside the world of a book and live in that world instead of mine, wandering through ancient forests and medieval castles, though Saharan dust storms and leech-infested swamps, inside the skin of someone else, someone mostly-else, someone created by the author but with whom I shared those imagined experiences and the emotions that arose from them.  But in third grade…I could. 


And I still feel that magic today, when I read.  But when I first experienced it, back in third grade…wow, that was something.  And so I want to do that for kids. I want to make it possible for them to take part in that magic…with books that I planned to write for them.

What was the hardest part of writing JOURNEY OF THE PALE BEAR?

Well, there were a lot of hard parts (there always are, for me!)  But one particular challenge was the issue of anachronism. In other words, when you’re writing about the past, you don’t want your characters to be 21st century people dressed up in the costumes of earlier times.  You want your characters’ attitudes to be “of their times,” and yet accessible to young readers of today. 

This meant that Arthur (the protagonist) should not be sensitized to issues of animal rights…because that really wasn’t a thing in the 13th century.  On the other hand, I did want Arthur to come ‘round to the modern understanding that keeping a polar bear in a small cage is just flat-out wrong.  So Arthur had to change, in this way, and I struggled for quite some time to make it a believable change.  

How did you decide if your main character would be male or female?

In my last novel (Falcon in the Glass) the protagonist was a boy, and I kind of wanted to switch to a girl protagonist after that.  But when I thought about the historical era and the events of Journey of the Pale Bear, especially the parts on the sailing ship, I realized that a girl protagonist would stretch credulity too far.  So I happily settled in with Arthur!

How did you decide if the bear would be male or female?

This was trickier!  Nobody knows if the real, historical polar bear was male or female.  My first thought was that the bear in my book should be a male. I had in mind a kind of guys-on-a-road-trip vibe with Arthur and the bear.  But young male polar bears are some of the most dangerous animals on the planet. The more I thought about it, the more I began to feel uneasy about my decision.  I had actually written about three-fourths of the book with the polar bear as a male. But I changed my mind and went back and changed the bear to a female. 

And it actually worked out really well.  For example, I had already written several scenes in which Arthur hums to the bear.  I later found out that bear cubs sometimes sort of hum to their mothers. So instead of the guys-on-a-road-trip vibe, the now-female bear relates to Arthur sort of as if he were her cub.

Who are some of the authors you feel were influential in your work?

So many authors have influenced me, both directly and through their work!  So I think I’ll comment on just one—Eloise McGraw. Eloise wrote a raft of wonderful novels for young readers; she had three Newbery Honor books.  Her work, itself, is inspiring. Even now, when I pick up one of her books, it makes me want to try harder to raise my standards—though I’ll never be as good a writer as she was.  (Moorchild is my favorite of Eloise’s books, followed by The Striped Ships.) But Eloise was a friend, as well, and she taught me so much about the writing life.  An example: Once, when Eloise was struggling with the beginning of a novel, I told her that it surprised me that she was having trouble because she had already written so many great books.  She told me that each book teaches you how to write that book, but not necessarily the ones after that.  This was kind of discouraging at the time! But later, it was very helpful.  Because each book I’ve written has been hard in one way or another—and Eloise taught me to think of the struggle as just part of the job of being a novelist. 

Do you have any strange writing habits or writing rituals you’d like to share with your readers?

Here’s one that came from another bit of advice from Eloise McGraw.  Years ago, whenever I got stuck, I would just push my way through the story.  But, more often than not, I’d have to throw out most of what I wrote when pushing through.  One day, Eloise told me that when she got stuck, she waited.  She would write down a question about what was stalling her, and she would read that question every day, until one day she just knew the answer.  So I put a pretty ceramic bowl in my study.  When I get stuck, I take out a little slip of paper and write down a question about what is stalling me.  I fold it up and put it in the bowl. And I take the question out and read it every day until I know the answer.  Sooner or later, the answer always comes! 

Although Susan loves to write about long-ago and faraway places, she can’t bring those worlds to life without grounding them in the details of this one. To that end, she has explored lava tubes and sea caves; spent the night in a lighthouse; traveled along the Silk Road in Iran; ridden in a glider, on a camel, and on a donkey; and cut up (already dead!) baby chicks and mice for a gyrfalcon’s dinner. To research Journey of the Pale Bear, she explored the grounds of the Tower of London and went backstage at the Oregon Zoo, where, standing breathtakingly near, she watched polar bears Tasul and Conrad lip grapes from their keepers’ open palms. Journey of the Pale Bear is Susan’s 12th book, including the Dragon Chronicles series, Shadow Spinner, and Alphabet of Dreams. Collectively, her books have been translated into nine languages; accolades include a Golden Kite Honor Book, the American Library Association’s Notable Books and Best Books for Young Adults, BCCB Blue Ribbon Books, and School Library Journal’s Best Books. Susan has an M.A. in English from the University of Michigan and taught for many years in the M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College. She lives in Bryan, Texas with her husband, historian R.J.Q. Adams, and their dog, Neville.

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OCTOBER 10-20, 2019
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Many thanks to Lone Star Book Blog Tours and the author! It was a pleasure hosting! And be sure to check out the other stops on the tour for more opinions and extras!


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