Waiting for Ice book cover image

Waiting for Ice

  • 1595

By: Sandra Markle / Illustrated by: Alan Marks

An orphaned polar bear struggles for survival.

Based on a true story, Waiting for Ice follows an orphaned polar bear cub as she struggles to find food on Wrangel Island, far north in the Arctic Ocean. Left alone at ten months old, the young female finds herself up against other bears who are bigger and stronger than she is—and just as hungry. Due to rising temperatures, the bears are trapped on the island until the ice packs reform. Only then can they venture out to hunt for seals and whales, using the ice as life rafts.

In their sixth collaboration, Sandra Markle and Alan Marks effectively portray the gravity of a significant worldwide issue—global warming. Back matter includes further information about how polar bears are affected by the earth’s climate change, facts about these land carnivores, as well as background information on Tuff, the resilient polar bear cub on whom Waiting for Ice is based.

Look Inside the Book:

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Sandra Markle, author

Sandra Markle is the author of more than 200 nonfiction books on science topics for children and her books have won over 30 awards, including the NSTA and CBC's list of Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children, the International Reading Association's Young Adults Choice Award, the Society of School Librarians International Book Award for Language Arts K-6, the Parent's Guide to Children's Media Nonfiction Award, The Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Books of the Year Award, and Nick Jr. magazine's Best Books of the Year Award. Markle has been named Georgia Author of the Year five times and was honored as one of 1999's Women of the Year by Women in Technology International for her contributions to science and technology.

Read more about Sandra.

Alan Marks, illustrator

Alan Marks began his career illustrating for magazines and newspapers in England. His first children's book Storm, written by Kevin Crossley Holland, won the Carnegie Medal. Alan now illustrates a wide variety of subjects, from nursery rhymes to war poetry.

Read more about Alan.

Awards & Honors:

  • An NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12
  • Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Books of the Year

Editorial Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews

Markle provides an uncommon look at polar bears, the largest hunters on land, in this narrative that follows an orphaned cub barely old enough to survive on her own.

Trapped on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Sea, waiting late into the fall for the annual floating pack ice to form, she and other polar bears subsist on the few animals they can find--typically only birds and walruses, as a note on global warming explains at the back. No big gestures or overt drama about the effects of climate change here, but a focused, simple look at how polar bears survive during so much of the year, when there's no ice to help them in their hunt for seals in the Arctic waters. Marks' realistic watercolor-and-pencil illustrations in blues and grays show a spare landscape and just enough detail to link the bear cub with the text. Bright spots of red on a walrus calf captured and killed by an older bear and on the dead bird found by the cub are subtle reminders that the bears are predators and carnivores. The language is straightforward, simple and clear, offering only the hope that the cub will survive the winter. An author's note, polar bear facts, sources for more information and a discussion of global warming provide extensions to the story.

Sturdy and well-put-together nature writing for younger readers.


A polar bear cub, barely 10 months old, gets separated from her mother on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean. Because the ice has melted during the very long summer, the cub is trapped, left struggling to survive with other hungry polar bears, until at last a blizzard comes, the pack ice returns, and the cub can travel on the ice floes to hunt for food and find her mother. Based on a true story reported by a scientist who observed the cub on Wrangel, the spare, poetic free verse about the land that is "harsh, hungry--and home" is illustrated with vivid double-page watercolor-and-pencil artwork in arctic blues and whites that show the desperate cub scavenging and searching, until finally she is freed. The immediate survival struggle will hook children, while young conservationists will want to find out more, and well-organized back matter spells out the crucial messages about the threats of global warming.

School Library Journal

Orphaned and hungry, a cub searches for food along with the many adult polar bears stranded by warming waters on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean. Unable to find ice floes large enough to carry them to better hunting grounds, the starving bears vie with one another for the meager bits they can find. It looks hopeless for the little bear, but she is resilient and resourceful, and when the ice pack finally arrives, she leaves the island for an uncertain future. A postscript tells readers that this picture book is based on a true story: the cub did manage to survive, but the increasing effects of global warming threaten the existence of all polar bears. Watercolor illustrations in blues and grays convey both the coldness of the Arctic and the sadness of the bears' experience. The book is best used as a read aloud with accompanying explanations of the causes and effects of global warming on the world around us, and with mention of the happier ending provided by the note.

Library Media Connection

This picture book meshes facts with the story of a polar bear cub in search of her mother, fighting for food and survival at the end of a particularly warm summer. Readers learn facts about polar bears. The watercolor and pencil illustrations are lovely representations of polar bears in their natural setting. The story is based on the true story of a polar bear named Tuff who had been observed on Wrangel Island by Russian researchers. Knowing this is based on an actual and specific bear seems to make the story more interesting. An endnote tells about the effect of climate change on polar bears.

NSTA Recommends

This true story of an orphaned polar bear cub learning to survive on her own will engage children in the complex issue of climate change at a level that is authentic and relevant to them. The cub is one of many vying for food on Wrangel Island as they wait for the pack ice to return. Survival is not guaranteed for this cub or any other polar bear. Researcher Nikita Ovsyanikov followed the cub as it managed to grow despite being orphaned on a diminishing ice pack.

Most pages of this book offer full, artistic illustrations with only a few sentences of dramatic text superimposed, making this a good choice for sharing with the entire class. The bears and their environment are real, not cute or cartoonish, yet the overall impression is one of beauty. The reader develops a relationship with the orphan cub and elicits a desire to help the polar bear. Based on true events, this NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book inspires questions, thoughts, and even concerns for survival of the polar bears. The author provides well-organized supplementary information on both polar bears and climate change for the teacher to answer those questions.


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ISBN: 978-1-58089-255-1

E-book PDF
ISBN: 978-1-60734-086-7
For information about purchasing E-books, click here.

Ages: 4-8
Page count: 32
8 1/2 x 11

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