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Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North

Illustrated by Kelly Pousette

The adventures of Duane the polar bear and his arctic friends continue in this charming sequel to the modern-day classic The Very, Very Far North, which Booklist compared to Winnie the Pooh in a starred review.

Past the place where icebergs shiver, you will find the Very, Very Far North, where Duane and his friends are sure to make you feel right at home. You might like to share a delicious Snow Delight with warmhearted Duane. While you’re slurping away, if C.C. suddenly asks you where you’ve come from, it’s not because she’s nosy; she is simply gathering scientific data. If Handsome, the musk ox, pays a visit, a quick hair combing is highly recommended. Should you notice a quiet caribou grazing nearby, well, that’s just Boo’s way of saying hello.

And if a less-than-friendly visitor arrives to sneak, shove, and shake things up, Duane and the others might discover that life isn’t always as peaceful as mid-late-afternoon nap. Fortunately, they know that change is as much a part of life as picnics and Tuesdays and cozy stories shared among friends.

Chapter 1: Duane Awakes, Finds Himself Among Friends, and then Finds Someone Less Friendly

1. DUANE AWAKES, FINDS HIMSELF AMONG FRIENDS, AND THEN FINDS SOMEONE LESS FRIENDLY
ONE DELIGHTFULLY BITTER, COLD morning, Duane woke up from a long, long, very long nap. He stretched what needed stretching. He scratched what needed scratching. He yawned for a full minute and a half. With the claws of his front paw, he brushed his white polar bear fur until he felt that he looked presentable. Then he ventured out of his cave.

“Hello, Duane,” said the half dozen individuals already gathered. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

Duane smiled sleepily. The bright sunshine caused his eyes to narrow, but even still, he could see that everyone who mattered to him was there.

“Hello, C.C.,” he said to his friend, a snowy owl.

“What’s up, Magic?” he asked his friend, an arctic fox.

“Morning, Major Puff,” he said while saluting his friend, a puffin.

“Lovely to see you, Twitch,” he said to his friend, an arctic hare.

“Salutations, Handsome,” he said to his friend, a musk ox.

“Hi, Boo,” he whispered to his skittish friend, a caribou.

Certain that no one had been left out, Duane opened his big, powerful arms as wide as they could spread. “Group hug, everyone!” he declared. And then he pulled all his friends in close, except for C.C., who flew up in the air because, as she’s always maintained, she is not a touchy-feely kind of owl.



“So what did I miss?” Duane asked.

“What did you miss?” said Magic incredulously. “What did you miss? What didn’t you miss, would be the easier question, Duane.” Magic has a tendency to overexcite. The others shuffled their feet or groomed themselves absentmindedly until her point was made and conversation could continue. “You’ve slept through most of the winter. There have been blizzards and iceberg breakings and strange creature sightings and at least a billion other things. I mean, really!”

Duane nodded apologetically, which is Magic’s favorite response. Then he said, “In that case, let’s begin with what I didn’t miss, since the list would surely be smaller.”

“You didn’t miss the comet, which, according to my calculations, will be flying above us in two weeks. Two weeks!” squealed C.C. with a shudder of delight before gaining control of herself.

“Fortunately for you, you haven’t missed my gripping solo reenactment of the Great Puffin War of Eighteen-Something-Or-Other,” declared Major Puff proudly. “Will there be marching, you ask? Oh, yes, there will be plenty of marching!” At which Major Puff proceeded to demonstrate by marching around the group with feet raised high.

“And you didn’t miss my upcoming birthday, thank goodness,” said Handsome, “because etiquette would then require that I give you cold harsh glares of disappointment. Such expressions never look good on me, and all that face-tightening just adds wrinkles.”

“You didn’t miss my first attempt at public singing,” whispered Boo.

“What was that?” asked Duane, but Boo just shook her head self-consciously and hid behind Handsome.

Before any plans for the day could be suggested by his friends, a breeze carried the sweet smell of wild berries up to Duane’s nose, which he inhaled to his great delight. His stomach, now stirred and fully awake, wasted no time in growling a plan of action that Duane obediently relayed to the others. “I think a post-nap snack is what’s necessary. We could all visit the berry bushes on the way to the Fabulous Beach for a picnic.”

Duane’s friends know there is no point in arguing with Duane’s stomach, and there are worse things to do than spend a day at the beach in one another’s company. With little fuss, they made their way down the hillside toward the ocean’s edge.

“Might we stop briefly at my abode so I can take along my brush?” asked Handsome. “I find the salt air tangles my hair, leaving it a matted mess.”

“Ooh, and if we pop by me and the Major’s place,” said Twitch, “I’ll bring along some meringue cookies I whipped up this morning. And some carrot cake and a selection of tarts.”

“Then that’s what we shall do,” agreed Duane.

“But Duane,” moaned Magic, while flopping on the ground and sighing very dramatically, “then we will never get there!”

“We will. I’m absolutely sure of it.” He gave Magic a smile for encouragement. “Major Puff, would you do us the honor?”

“Understood,” said the puffin, who rushed toward the front of the group. “Follow me, lads! Left, right, left, right, and so on!”

Duane lingered back, allowing everyone to proceed before him. He took a moment to acknowledge his fortunate circumstances. To think that he’d come to the Very, Very Far North from somewhere else and was able to make himself a home that was cozy, and friends who meant the world to him. Duane sighed, and without a doubt, it was a happy sigh. The day was proving itself to be a very pleasant one, requiring little effort on Duane’s part to keep it so. In a short while, he would be eating sweet nibbles and warming his belly under a springtime sun.

But just as he was about to join his friends, a most disagreeable rush of noise overwhelmed him. Clanging and booming and bonging and rumbling, the cacophony was so loud and violent, it shook the ground beneath his paws.

Oh my, thought Duane.

Was it an earthquake? An avalanche? These were questions best left for a less chaotic interlude. At that moment, Duane could only manage to reach up and cover his ears as the din continued to assault him from all sides. He wanted to run away and find safety, but he couldn’t. His legs were wobbly, unresponsive; they wouldn’t move forward no matter how much he willed them to. Duane was terrified.

Meanwhile, his friends were moving farther and farther away. Soon they would be gone, out of sight and out of hearing range. Oddly enough, they seemed unaffected by the deafening noise. Could they not hear it? Why was it not throwing them off-balance like it was doing to him? These, too, were questions best left for later. Right now, Duane needed their help. He yelled for them to come back, or at least he tried to, because while his legs might have been unsteady, his voice was just plain stuck. It made no sense. His jaw was wide open, his intentions were urgent, yet nothing came out of his mouth but a silent scream.

Now, before you get too swept up in the unsettling, even scary situation I’ve just described, I will take this moment to tell you that nothing in this story so far is real. Duane hadn’t really greeted his friends or planned a picnic or suddenly found himself helplessly in the grasp of an overpowering ruckus. That is because Duane was still in his cozy cave, lying on his soft mattress, having a terrible, terrible nightmare. I apologize. I should have been more forthcoming about this fact. It’s just that in my opinion, no story is ever improved by telling a reader that it has all been a dream. Yet in this case, it’s unavoidable. Duane was asleep, albeit fitfully, and even if his nightmare scream was soundless, his real scream—the one that finally woke him up—was very, very loud, as you will soon learn.

“AH!”

Duane sat up in an instant. His face was flushed, and his body was trembling. Those of you who have had bad dreams may recognize Duane’s confusion as he took in his surroundings, found his bearings, and realized that he was no longer in the dream but back in his cave, alone.

“Oh my,” he whispered aloud.

But although he was awake, the noise had not ceased.

Bong! Clang! Clang! Bong! Clang!

The source of Duane’s nightmare was apparently coming from the grandfather clock tucked in the corner. How unexpected, thought Duane. For as long as he had had the old timepiece, it had offered nothing in the way of conversation but a steady, calm, and reasonably quiet tick-tock. Now, for some unexplained reason, it had decided to add pealing and tolling to the mix, and was doing such, I should add, with reckless abandon.

Clang! Dong! Bong! Bong!

This was most strange. The grandfather clock no longer had hands on its face to tell general time, and therefore had forgone its duty to announce any specific time. Since relocating the clock from the Shipwreck many, many months ago, Duane felt he had come to understand the language of tick-talking, so from his point of view, the clock must surely be upset about something important and needed to make it abundantly clear.

“There, there,” Duane said to it gently as he walked over. “What seems to be the problem?”

To his surprise, and to yours, too, I should imagine, the grandfather clock spoke back. Amid all the clangs and bongs, an angry voice from within yelled, “Where is it?”

Duane took this in stride. He figured that if he was able to understand clock language, it stood to reason that given enough time, the clock would learn to speak his. “Where is what?” Duane asked.

Bong! Clang! Clang! “Argh! Come on, where did it go?”

Duane leaned in closer. “Perhaps if you describe what you’re looking for, I can help you.”

“Arrrgh!” growled the clock, seemingly ignoring Duane’s generous offer.

But was it the clock speaking? Now that Duane was closer, he could hear other sounds besides the clanging and the yelling. He could hear scurrying and scraping as well. Intrigued, Duane used his claws to pry open the long, thin panel on the clock’s belly. What he saw inside the grandfather clock, among the weights and chains, the pendulum and other metal doodads noisily flying about, was a small, furry creature who appeared to be in the middle of a big, furious tantrum.
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 simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.
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. 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 DanBarel.com.

Photograph © Kelly Pousette

Kelly Pousette is an illustrator and 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. The Very, Very Far North series are her first books.

"A return to the Very, Very Far North is a welcome thing, indeed, and readers who fell in love with Duane the polar bear and his company of friends will welcome them back with open arms." 

– Booklist

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

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