Teacher/Discussion Guides

Poles Apart: Why Penguins and Polar Bears Will Never Be Neighbors by Elaine Scott

Published by Viking Juvenile Books, 2004. ISBN: 0670059250. $17.99. Ages 9 and up.


Did you know that millions of years ago the Arctic and Antarctica were warm, tropical places? Or, that all the continents in today’s world were once linked together? In Poles Apart, Elaine Scott answers many questions raised by curious kids about the Earth’s polar regions. This book introduces readers to the North and South Poles, explores the special qualities about each location and its inhabitants, explains how the Earth’s magnetism and compasses work, and more.

About the Author:

Elaine Scott was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and currently resides in Houston, Texas. She has written eighteen books, all but one of which is non-fiction, designed to help satisfy kid’s curiosity. Elaine’s books have been awarded honors including School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, Outstanding Trade Book for Children, VOYA Nonfiction Honor List, and many more. When she’s not writing, Elaine enjoys sailing on her boat in Galveston Bay. She and her husband, Parker, have two grown daughters.

Classroom Activities:

1. Creative Writing – Use the pictures provided in Poles Apart to inspire students to think creatively. Choose a picture from the book and ask the students write a story about the animals in the picture.

2. Geography – Poles Apart discusses latitude and longitude lines and how these imaginary lines can be used to pinpoint the location of places on Earth. Discuss how explorers used latitude and longitude to map out new discoveries and determine routes. Talk about the importance of these invisible lines to today’s airplane pilots and ship’s captains. In advance, prepare the longitude and latitude of a variety of locations around the world. Divide the students into small groups and have them work together to identify the specific places on a globe or map. For example, where is Latitude: 30.266N; Longitude: -97.742W? If you can’t figure this one out, you are lost!

3. Science, Animals – After reading chapters five and six on penguins and polar bears, discuss other underwater animals and how their bodies are able to stay warm in cold water. A lesson plan complete with an excellent activity, discussion questions, suggested readings, and more can be found at DiscoverySchool.com: http://school.discovery.com/lessonplans/programs/exploringunderwater/

Fun Things to Do:

1. Arctic Funnies
Poles Apart is packed with engaging pictures, such as the polar bears on pages 38 and 40 and the Emperor penguins on pages 34 and 35. Photocopy some of these pictures and ask the children to make up funny captions for the pictures. Display the captions on the bulletin board.

2. Northern Lights
On April 6, 2000 at the McDonald Observatory in Big Bend, the Aurora Borealis was sited in the Texas sky! A picture of this event can be viewed at www.spacescience.com/headlines/images/brushfire/texas.jpg. After viewing other pictures of the Northern Lights, children will enjoy making their own Aurora Borealis.

white watercolor paper
watercolors and brushes
white crayons

Using the white crayon, let children draws stars on the watercolor paper. Then, using their brush, have the children paint streaks of color across the paper. The paint will not stick where there is white crayon. Encourage the children to gently tilt the edges of the paper so that the wet paint will run in streaks. Let the paper dry completely before hanging.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

3. Let kids create their own puzzles using what they have learned about the North and South Poles or create your own puzzles to use in class at www.Puzzlemaker.com. Alternatively, write the words Emperor Penguin on a black board or piece of poster paper. Let the kids see how many words they can make out of these two. Give a small prize for the longest word and the most words. (There should be at least 321 words of 3 or more letters. See how many you can find!) For even more fun, see how many words can be created from the scientific name for the Emperor Penguin: Aptenodytes forsteri. There are over 1,000!

Web sites:

1. Animal Planet’s Critter Cams
Check out Animal Planets penguin “cam” and see what the funny critters are doing at The Polar World exhibit at the Montreal Biodome in Montreal, Quebec. The habitat is home to 46 birds representing four different species of penguins.

2. Polar Bears at National Geographic.com
Find interesting and fun facts about Polar Bears, hear a polar bear growl, and see a video clip of bears at work on this National Geographic site.

3. Arctic Studies Center - Wildlife
Learn about other Arctic wildlife and the people who inhabit the region at the Artic Studies Center.

4. South Pole-Kids
Britannica Kids explores the Antarctica. 

5. Penguin Cam
Watch penguins at the San Diego Zoo.

6. Penguin Facts
National Geographic tells all about penguins.

Be sure to check out additional web sites of interest listed on the last page of Poles Apart.

Further Readings:
  • Berger, Melvin. Do Penguins Get Frostbite?: Questions and Answers About Polar Animals. Scholastic, 2001.
  • Croswell, Ken. See the Stars: Your First Guide to the Night Sky. Boyds Mills Press, 2000.
  • Houston, James. Frozen Fire: A Tale Of Courage. Simon Pulse, 1992.
  • Lourie, Peter. The Polar Bear Scientists (Scientists in the Field Series). HMH, 2015.
  • Scott, Elaine. Close Encounters: Exploring the Universe with the Hubble Space Telescope. Hyperion Books for Children, 1998.
  • Webb, Sophie. My Season with Penguins: An Antarctic Journal. Houghton Mifflin, 2004.

Activity Guide prepared by Jennifer Rae Freeman and edited by Jeanette Larson.
Updated June 29, 2020

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