Knut: How One Little Polar Bear Captivated the World – Perfect Picture Book Friday

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polarsI have a soft spot for polar bears and was saddened by the death two winters ago of the world’s most famous polar bear, Knut. His death posed once again  the ethical quandary of should man keep and raise animals in zoos. Wild Polar Bears can live to around 30 years old, but Knut died at the age of four. His post mortem suggested brain damage. Knut was born in 2006 in Berlin Zoo. He was raised by humans, one keeper in particular, with whom he bonded strongly. Animal rights activists continue to contend that he should have been put down when his mother rejected him rather than subject him to the unnatural and often numbingly boring existence of a large animal in a zoo. They suggest that the impact of excessive exposure to humans through being reared by hand and huge crowds would have inevitably provoked behavioral problems. One can argue that once born, the zoo had an obligation to aid in Knut’s survival, but the real issue is the zoo’s artificial environment and what that imposes on the animals. Are such animals being exhibited purely for profit and entertainment or do zoos provide a place of unique educational value and possibilities for preserving species, or could time effort and money be better spent in protecting animals and their habitats in the wild? It is estimated that profits increased by around 5 million Euros for Berlin Zoo since Knut’s birth. It should be noted, though, that much of the profit is returned to conservation projects in the field.

Having lived among wild animals in Africa, I probably have an inevitable bias towards protecting and maintaining them in their natural habitat. Animals raised in captivity are very rarely successfully released into the wild. With many/most species this is impossible. Is there a place for zoos in the education of our children?  Possibly, and maybe more so for their advocacy role for animals in the wild. The long term forecast for Polar Bears is not good. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) estimates that there are between 20,000-25,000 polar bears in the world, and they are on the Red List as a threatened species.

0-545-04716-1Knut: How one Little Polar Bear Captured the World.

Written by Craig Hatkoff, Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff & Dr. Gerald R. Uhlich

Published by Scholastic Press, November 1s, 2007

Ages: 4 – 11

Non-fiction, readily available

Themes: polar bears, zoos, endangered species, conservation

Synopsis: Knut’s mum was a rescued East German circus bear and when Knut was born he was around the size of a snowball.  After his mother’s rejection, Knut would have most definitely died were it not for great veterinary care and then the zookeeper, Thomas Dorflein, who did some round the clock surrogate parenting for many months. Thomas fed him with a bottle like a human baby and taught him essentials like swimming.

Why I like this book: While I have already mentioned my ethical concerns about some zoos, I know that kids and adults will fall in love with this adorable bear through the enchanting photo illustrations and the true story. Knut is about as cute as they come and I think it offers a beautiful introduction to this species and the opportunity to talk, especially with older elementary children, about: animal conservation, the role of zoos, the place of animals in circuses etc

Resources/Activities: offers videos, links and more information about Knut.

Polar bear facts and videos from National Geographic Kids.

Some conflicting thoughts here and here on the value of zoos.
Opportunity for a family or class to adopt a polar bear and help in their conservation.
Perfect Picture Book Fridays are the creation of the lovely children’s book author Susanna Leonard Hill.  Susanna has a complete list (alphabetically and by theme) of all the book reviews. It’s a terrific resource if you’re looking for activities for a book, or books focused on a particular theme.
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35 Responses to Knut: How One Little Polar Bear Captivated the World – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. What a beautiful book and a beautiful intro to your Perfect choice. I love animals and would do anything to protect them. True we are torn between Zoos and the natural habitat in dealing with the survival of young animals. Zoos, good ones, respectful of animal wellbeing do provide essential educational learnings for our kids. But unfortunately not all have the welfare of animals in mind. Your hands on experience brings depth in introducing us to books like the cute Knut. Thank you for sharing Joanna. Gorgeous cover!

  2. Laura Renauld says:

    I’ve heard of Knut, but haven’t seen this book. Thank you for sharing it and the ethical dilemma embedded in zoos and wildlife conservation.

  3. Joanna, it so wonderful that you can share and express your passion through this children’s book. I also feel as you do about zoos and yet they have provided me the opportunity to see the magnificence of animals I could not otherwise see. Zoos do raise awareness and educate to those who desire it. The polar bear habitat at our Detroit zoo is wonderful. I took our school class there and have an amazing picture of an 8 yr old student in a glass tunnel under water with the polar bear over his head. He was obsessed with polar bears when we got back did reports and drew pictures for weeks. Thank you for beautifully expressing yourself. I know the books you write will continue to remind us to care for our world. (Sorry this is so long – I really appreciate your PB pick this week.)

    • Joanna says:

      Laura, I so appreciate your lengthy response. I am so happy to hear of the happy environment in which the Detroit Zoo polar bears live. Also it is encouraging to hear how excited and interested your class were about the animals through their zoo visit.

  4. Janet Smart says:

    He is so adorable! I had never heard of Knut before. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  5. Love this story of Knut! Liked your share about polar bears in captivity. It is sad his life was so short. Agree witih your comments about introducing children young and talking about conservation. Nice resources.

  6. As you know, I love this book. Although I agree with you that animals could be better helped in the wild and through preservation of their habitats etc, having been born in captivity Knut is very cute and it’s interesting to hear his story. I really liked how you used this book as a springboard to a discussion of animal rights and the issue of zoos. Zoos make me sad. But sometimes they can be useful. My daughter’s school has a teaching zoo, and they are often able to help wild animals who are sick or in pain, and that at least is a good thing.

    • Joanna says:

      It’s an adorable story, isn’t it? I do love the idea of a teaching zoo at a school and I am sure your daughter is learning a lot from this experience!

  7. Amy D says:

    I completely resonate with your conflicted feelings about zoos. My kids love the zoo so much and learn a lot there…and yet in all of our visits, I can’t help but fight off waves of sadness for the animals there. Thanks for highlighting Knut’s story, I look forward to reading it for myself.

  8. LOVE this one – my teenager too! So knuddelig!

  9. Carrie F says:

    Wow, Joanna, this sounds great! I have never liked zoos much either. I wonder if seeing animals in zoos helps people become interested in the animals and in preserving animals in the wild. To put it bluntly — is it “worth” the sacrifice of a few animals in order to raise the level of concern for animals in the wild. And then, as you say, at this point we’re talking about animals born in captivity. Is it more cruel to place them in the wild than to keep them in captivity? I don’t know… Thanks for bringing up these issues, though.

  10. Oh my goodness, that is the biggest bundle of cuteness I’ve seen all day! We’ll have to grab this book. It’s perfect for the wintry season.

  11. Loni Edwards says:

    Hi Joanna,
    I share your passion for animals living in their natural habitat. A few years back I followed the story of Maggie the elephant. She lived in the Anchorage Zoo in Alaska. After her cage mate, Annabelle died, Maggie became very lonely and sick. Public outcry compelled the zoo to find a warmer place for Maggie. PAWS, with the aid of Bob Barker, ended up buying her and transporting her to the ranch in California. It was fascinating to follow her saga and see her flourish in her new home. I wish there were more places like PAWS. I always thought it was strange that there was an African Elephant in the zoo in Alaska. It just seemed so unnatural. Just like seeing polar bears or penguins in Florida is unnatural. Thanks for adding this book to the list. I remember when Knut died also. 🙁

    Peace, Loni

  12. clarbojahn says:

    Thanks so much for your brilliant essay on the ethics of Zoos versus the natural habitat. Ever since I became aware of how Chimpanzees were treated I haven’t been able to enjoy zoos even the ones where there are adequate open space for the animals like our DC Zoo. Your exploration of why zoos are helpful goes far in helping me accept there may be a role of zoos for animals. 🙂

  13. Thanks for sharing this book. I’d love to show it to my students. They are already in love with the polar bear picture I have hanging in my speech room.

  14. Cathy Mealey says:

    Knut is klovely. My kids have loved this book and Knut’s story..

    Have you read THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN? Another great springboard for discussion about the ethics of animal habitats.

  15. Knut is one cute polar bear. For 5 years my husband and I lived and taught school in the Canadian arctic. My best polar bear sighting was from a small plane (taking students on a 3 day exchange to another community) – a mother and 2 cubs following a crack in the sea ice. We also went into a (no long used) polar bear den, saw the claw scrapings on the roof where mama had brushed down new snow to cover up cub poops. It was amazing to be able to see polar bears where they were supposed to be. When we moved back to southern Canada, the girl who babysat our daughter, came down to stay with us and babysit for a few months. Although she was Inuk and had spent her life in the North, she had never seen a polar bear. At that time there was a polar bear in an enclosure in Stanley Park in Vancouver. Sadly, it was the only polar bear she had ever seen.

    • Joanna says:

      Sandi, I am so gad you had that wonderful experience of seeing these amazing animals in their habitat. Your sharing does exemplify the rarer and rarer polar bear spottings and the question of zoos/parks roles in educating. Thank you so much for sharing.

  16. MotherReader says:

    Like many, I have conflicted feelings about zoos, but I do think that they do help to keep people educated about and feel connected to animals in the wild. When you think of it, that common conflicted feeling is what has driven zoos to more natural environments and better conservation practices.

  17. My husband and I just watched, “We Bought a Zoo”…with Matt Damon…so your PPBF pick was perfect. I’ve been to many zoos…some are so sad…others keep the animals in what looks like very good condition. I am of two minds…wild animals should be in the wild…but well-run zoos do provide a wonderful learning experience for children…and a place of safety for some of the world’s endangered species.
    Joanna…this is a beautiful book…thank you so much for sharing your passion.:)

  18. All zoos are so different, I have been to an awful lot in a lot of different countries and some are way better than others. i have to say I’ve only seen one polar bear at a zoo and that was at detroit and it seemed so happy batting away at a box in the water. You couldn’t go outside to see it, so it was in relative peace and quiet. I do feel sorry for Knut and his experience though 🙁

  19. Knut is as cute as they come. I have heard his story, but haven’t read this book. Thanks for adding it to the list, Joanna.

  20. A lovely book. I struggle with the issue of the zoo every time I visit our local one.

  21. Lee Wind says:

    I’m so glad you bring up the debate on zoos – a great issue to discuss with kids, as it’s complex and not an easy yes or no…
    Thanks as well for being part of the 2013 Comment Challenge – even though the challenge isn’t officially “on,” I’m trying to keep commenting – I hope you do the same!

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