Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc
In a curious but successful hybrid of fact and fiction, an affable stuffed polar bear is the narrator of this true tale written in 1913 by Spedden, an American heiress who traveled extensively with her husband and their son, Douglas. Polar, a character modeled on an actual toy that Douglas received as a Christmas gift, offers a chatty travelogue of the Speddens' visits to such locales as Madeira, Algiers and Paris. The bear's detailed account may prove tedious to the target audience-until midway through the book, when the Speddens and Polar board a new luxury liner called the Titanic. The family survives the disastrous collision with the iceberg (however, according to an epilogue by Leighton H. Coleman III, a descendant of the author, Douglas died in a car accident three years later). Snapshots from the Speddens' photo album and other memorabilia (e.g., a 1910 postcard of the F.A.O. Schwartz toy store, where Polar is purchased; a ticket entitling the bearer to use of the Turkish baths aboard the Titanic) provide intriguing glimpses of a long-gone lifestyle. Also evoking the Edwardian era are McGaw's romantic paintings, equally effective in their portrayal of the drama at sea and the love between a boy and his bear. Ages 8-12.
School Library Journal
Shirley Wilton, Ocean County College, Toms River, NJ
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Grade 2 Up. In 1913, a society matron wrote a story for her young son to recount the events of an adventurous year of travel that climaxed in their homeward passage on the ill-fated Titanic. She uses the voice of Douglas's favorite toy, a stuffed bear named Polar, to narrate the pleasures of beaches and cities, the child's bout with measles, the excitement of boarding the luxury liner, and the terror of the long night at sea in a lifeboat as the ship went down. Full-page realistic paintings show the Speddens at home in Tuxedo Park, New York, and abroad. Sepia photographs of the family give substance to their elegant Edwardian lifestyle and blend well with the handsome watercolors. The inclusion of real postcards from Europe and tickets from the Titanic adds color and authenticity to the photos. Well designed and thoughtfully researched, the book offers entertainment, history, and a glimpse of a vanished world. It is a perfect choice for family reading, where an adult can speak of time and change to a child whose interest is captured by Polar's tale of adventure, and who is just beginning to understand the concept of generations and past lives.
Booklist, Starred Review
December 1, 1994 (Vol. 91, No. 7) by Ellen Mandel
Stories told in the first person by a child's toy bear are certainly not uncommon; this one, however, is astounding. Polar was created by the famous Steiff toy company in Germany, sold from the shelves of F. A. O. Schwarz, and delivered into the hands of Douglas Spedden, only child of the author and her husband, who were wealthy New Yorkers. Accompanying Douglas and his family on their travels, Polar describes transoceanic voyages, a visit to the then under construction Panama Canal, and wintering at the family home in Tuxedo Park. The climax of Polar's recorded journeys is his account of their sail aboard and rescue from the ill-fated Titanic. Polar's story, penned by Daisy Spedden as a Christmas gift for her son in 1913, is presented here in a beautiful photo-album format. Family photographs as well as postcards, tickets, and shipping labels of the era are attractively interspersed in the text, and McGaw's magnificent watercolors draw inspiration from both the snapshots and period Victorian styles. An introduction and epilogue fill in family history, color in details about the famous sinking and its aftermath, and provide a neededy historic and sociological perspective to the events. A more riveting history lesson will be hard to find. Category: For the Young. 1994, Little, Brown, $16.95. Ages 8-11.
Polar was a real stuffed bear who was with his human family on the Titanic when it sank in 1912. Daisy Corning Stone Spedden wrote the story and gave it to her son Douglas for a Christmas present in 1913. This little story about the bear and the photographs of the people and artifacts of the time transport us to an "Upstairs, Downstairs" world that we can only imagine. Polar nearly went down with the Titanic, but he was rescued and safely reunited with his Master. The book is illustrated with lovely watercolors as well as photographs. A charming story, if a little old-fashioned, that proves that children of all eras are fascinated by the same things. 1994, Little Brown, $17.95. Ages 5 to 8.
CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices, 1994)
Once upon a time, a little American boy's mother, Daisy Spedden, created a book for him, a book about his Steiff bear, a story about a boy whose stuffed animal had traveled with him on the Titanic and survived. Created in 1913, the book was discovered decades later in Daisy's trunk. That homemade volume became the core of Polar, an astonishing record of the disaster as well as a social history. Polar can be understood on one or more levels. Most children will read it from the perspective of a child passenger on the Titanic. Some may see Polar as one example of the economic privilege of the few who could afford that voyage. Older readers will notice the epilogue that foreshadows the transience of such leisure. Archival photos of toys from the era, family pictures, entries from Daisy Spedden's diaries, and facts about the Titanic are successfully integrated within an intriguing volume. Because the juvenile appearing jacket art does not do justice to the content, children who can appreciate it the most will probably not notice the book on their own. CCBC categories: Historical People, Places And Events; Easy Fiction. 1994, Little Brown, 64 pages, $16.95. Ages 7-9.
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December 1994 (Vol. 48, No. 4) by Susan Dove Lempke
Copyright 1994, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.
Based on her family's real-life adventures in the early twentieth century, Spedden's story, narrated by a Steiff teddy bear called Polar, opens as the bear is being made in the factory. Polar goes everywhere with his young master Douglas, from Madeira, where the boy comes down with the measles and his nurse Muddie Boons fights off the mice and rats, to Panama, Bermuda, Algiers, and other exotic ports. Then they board the Titanic, and five days later Douglas is loaded onto a lifeboat and rescued with the rest of his family and Polar, too. Though having the bear narrate the tale seems a bit precious to modern readers, Spedden's writing is vigorous and vivid. In the last few pages, Leighton H. Coleman III, Spedden's relative, fills in some of the details of the privileged world the Speddens inhabited and of the sinking of the Titanic. Photographs and postcards from Spedden's albums are mixed together with watercolor paintings. The book's audience may be somewhat limited by the combination of story and history, but Polar captures a way of life very well, and Titanic buffs will enjoy this personal account of the disaster. R--Recommended. 1994, Madison/Little, 64p, $16.95. Grades 3-6.
Horn Book (The Horn Book Guide, 1994)
Originally written in 1913 for Spedden's son's birthday, the story has been enhanced by period photographs of the family as well as beautiful full-color illustrations. The tale, told in the voice of the boy's toy bear, relates the true survival story of the family's voyage on the 'Titanic'. An epilogue provides additional details about the shipwreck. Category: Fiction. 1994, Little, 64pp.. Ages 9 to 12. Rating: 3: Recommended, satisfactory in style, content, and/or illustration.
Young Adult Literature in The Classroom |
By Joan B. Elliott, Mary M. Dupuis, 2nd Edition 2002
A teacher could capitalize on the perennial fascination with the sinking of the Titanic by introducing students to Polar: The Titanic Bear (Spedden 1994). Readers of all ages will be intrigued by this story, which is based on a wealthy East Coast family’s history and relates an eyewitness account of the sinking of the Titanic. Actual photographs of the family at home and on vacation are effectively interspersed with McGraw’s lovely illustrations.
Through The Looking Glass Children’s Book Review, 2003 Editor, Marya Jansen-Gruber
Polar the Titanic Bear
Daisy Corning Stone Spedden
Illustrations by Laurie McGaw
Introduction by Leighton H. Coleman III
Picture Book - Non-fiction
Ages 4 and up
Little Brown, 2001, 0-316-80909-8
Polar wonders what is going to happen to him now that he has been taken out of the toy shop. He soon finds out when he is given to a little boy as a gift. Douglas's Aunt Nannie gives him the bear just before the boy and his family leave for an ocean voyage. Douglas, or "Master" as Polar calls him, is going to Portugal [sic]with his mother, father and his nurse, Nurse Boons.
Polar and his little boy have all kinds of adventures going on trips to all sorts of fascinating and wonderful places. Together they enjoy the beach in Bermuda, seeing the canal in Panama, having a party in Algiers, riding the cable car in Monte Carlo, and gazing at the Eiffel tower in Paris. Then there are the days at home in America, sledding and building snowmen at Douglas's home in Tuxedo Park in New York.
Douglas particularly loved Paris and was disappointed when it was time to leave the great city. Still there was a wonderful trip to look forward to for the entire family was going to go home to America on the new ocean liner, the S.S. Titanic. It is the biggest ship in the world and full of all manner of luxuries and interesting things to do.
Douglas and Polar have a wonderful time exploring the great ship but on the fifth night at sea everything goes terribly wrong. The Titanic hits an iceberg and begins to sink. Douglas, holding Polar, his mother, his nurse, and his father are among the lucky people who are able to get off the ship before it sinks.
Told from the point of view of Polar, this wonderful true story was written by Douglas's mother Daisy. She gave her son the story for Christmas in 1913 and the little homemade book was later found by her relative who arranged to have it published. Daisy was a prolific writer and photographer so the book includes lots of pictures of Douglas and his family on their travels. Wonderful illustrations capture the extraordinary lifestyle enjoyed by Douglas and his parents and an epilogue at the back of the book goes on to tell the reader more about Spedden family and their time on the Titanic. We also learn that Douglas's life was cut short when he killed in a car crash three years after the sinking of the Titanic.
This book beautifully captures the mood of early 1900's and we see how differently people lived in those days, how strong the class system still was, and how optimistic and hopeful people were then. They truly believed that the Titanic was unsinkable and the loss of the ship changed the way they saw the world forever.
RMS Titanic: Memorialized in Popular Literature and Culture
By J. Joseph Edgette, 119
From: Studies in the Literary Imagination Spring 2006, Issue 39:1 (March 22, 2006)
Another surprise discovery involving literary works having a close affinity to popular culture is the true story Polar the Titanic Bear. Polar, which was written by Titanic survivor "Daisy" Spedden as a Christmas gift for her son Douglas in 1913, is an example of children's literature that attracts and pleases the adult audience, much like Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The story's plot concerns itself with the bear's narrating his experiences throughout the Titanic's voyage, highlighting the near-fatal ordeal he underwent and his subsequent rescue by an alert crew member. Six-year-old Douglas took his bear Polar with him when he entered Lifeboat number 3 with his parents and nurse as they abandoned the sinking ship. Having fallen asleep, the boy dropped the toy he had been clutching in his arms. Douglas realized Polar was missing when he was safely aboard the rescue ship Carpathia. Distraught, he shared his grief with an inquiring crewmember who had coincidentally found the stuffed animal when it fell out of the lifeboat and onto the Carpathia's deck as the lifeboats were being brought onboard the rescue vessel. The crew member had intended to give the found toy to his own child; however, having met Douglas and realizing he was the true owner, he made certain the two were reunited. The story thus ends on a very happy note.
The Spedden family was among the most prominent and wealthy of the first-class passengers, was. Mr. and Mrs. Frederic Oakley and Margaretta (Daisy) Corning Spedden; Robert Douglas, their son; Helen Alice Wilson, personal maid to Mrs. Spedden; and Elizabeth Margaret Burns, nursemaid to young Douglas, were completing a winter journey from Panama and Spain [sic]. The entourage, residents of Tuxedo Park, New York, boarded the luxury liner at Cherbourg. Frederic was a successful and highly respected financier, and his wife Daisy was a member of the prominent Corning family. Daisy kept meticulous diaries and Frederic, an avid photographer, chronicled their travels through the images he captured. References to the bear were recorded in both the diaries and the photographs. Prior to their journey that winter, Douglas's aunt gave him Polar, a small white mohair bear made by the Steiff Company and purchased at F. A. O. Schwarz, New York's largest toy store.
Daisy decided to tell My Story, about Douglas's travels, through Polar's eyes. It details Douglas's adventures while aboard the Titanic as well as the events that followed including bear and master's brief separation and eventual reunion aboard the Carpathia. She handwrote and illustrated the book. Douglas survived the Titanic disaster only to be struck by an automobile three years later while retrieving a tennis ball from behind a hedge at their summer home on Grindstone Neck in Winter Harbor, Maine, in 1915. His death was reportedly the first recorded automobile fatality in that state (Titanic Commutator 47). He was laid to rest in the Corning plot at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. According to family lore, Polar was buried with him [sic].
A relative, Leighton H. Coleman III, was helping his grandfather clean out the loft of the barn on their Long Island farm in 1982 when he came across an old trunk. Inside were two-dozen large photograph albums and a box of diaries. Leighton's grandfather inadvertently had placed the trunk with its treasure of ephemera on a truck to be taken to the dump; however, Leighton rescued it. While going through the contents more carefully, the original Christmas present book was discovered. Leighton's grandfather gave him the trunk on his twenty-first birthday in 1985.
Leighton Coleman then decided to give a copy of the original Christmas story to the Titanic Historic Society later that same year. Little Brown and Company was contacted and agreed that it would make a wonderful project, using the original text with new illustrations by Laurie McGaw that remained faithful to Daisy's illustrations. The book arrived in bookstores in England, Canada, and the United States on 15 November 1994 (Spedden). Enormously popular, Polar the Titanic Bear still remains a best seller in children's literature.