How to Catch a Polar Bear

How to Catch a Polar Bear
Age Range
Release Date
June 27, 2023
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It’s 1948, and twelve-year-old Nick is ready for the best summer ever. He’s going to hang out with his best pal, Ace, and maybe with Penny too—she is a girl, but she has a great throwing arm! Then things get wild when a polar bear escapes from Milwaukee’s city zoo and appears right on his block. They’re all going to have to keep their eyes open now.

But Nick’s grand plans start to crumble when Ace gets a paper route and Penny decides to share it with him. Now they’re never around. Nick himself is working at his Uncle Spiro’s frozen custard shop, but at least he gets free all-you-can-eat frozen custard. When Uncle Spiro opens a custard stand at the zoo, Nick volunteers to help—if that polar bear escapes again, he’ll have a front row seat!

Only their competitor, Happy Harold, opens a stand of his own. Now Nick is scrambling to keep their customers, especially because Happy keeps playing dirty tricks. When Penny discovers that someone may have let the polar bear out on purpose, Nick suspects it might be Happy. With mysteries to solve and a whole zoo-full of monkey business, it looks like Nick’s summer won’t be so boring after all!

Editor review

1 review
It's going to be a Frosty summer
Overall rating
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What worked:
The book is set in 1948 and the events and language reflect that time in history. Nick’s friends get a paper route to make $3.50 each week and his uncle owns a soda shop that sells custard cones. Nick shines shoes on Saturday mornings at his father’s business and helps his uncle around the shop in the afternoon. Characters listen to the radio for entertainment and it’s also where they first hear news of the escaped polar bear. The adjective “swell” is used frequently by various characters when things are going well. Life was simpler back then but it wasn’t all good times. Penny, one of Nick’s friends, must deal with stereotypical expectations for women as she doesn’t fit the description of dainty and sweet. Nick’s dad even makes comments about how women lack strength and shouldn’t be doing boy things.
The question in the book’s title is posed one morning after the polar bear is captured right outside Nick’s bedroom window. It’s really not a major factor in the plot although the public zoo park is the setting for much of the book. Much of the plot focuses on a conflict between Nick’s Uncle Spiro and a rival custard shop owned by Happy Harold. Happy is a bully and he doesn’t want to compete with any other shops in the city. He threatens and tries to find any advantage, even if they’re not ethical, to take out his competition. Spiro’s kind soul puts him at a disadvantage but he luckily has Nick and his friends fighting for him. The problem is amped up when Uncle Spiro is given permission to be the soul custard seller at the zoo and Happy won’t let that go unchallenged.
The author adds comedic elements to the book through Nick’s Greek mother and his friend Ace. Ace is impulsive as evidenced by his becoming a paperboy before thinking it through. Waking up at 4:00 in the early morning is no fun and he’s ready to quit after only one day. Nick comments that Ace can’t keep secrets so Nick doesn’t always tell him what’s going on. Ace is also a bit gullible. Eating is something he loves as it seems he’s always slurping up custard, enjoying pasta, or stopping by Penny’s for donuts. Nick’s mom often misunderstands figurative language so her comments sound funny. Nick says they need a guinea pig to taste a new custard recipe and she’s shocked that he wants to feed a pig. Amusing moments are sprinkled throughout the whole book.
What didn’t work as well:
The plot lacks any high drama or tension which may not appeal to some readers. The main conflict boils down to Uncle Spiro losing his custard stand at the zoo but it’s not the end of the world or his business. The true interest may lie in making sure Happy isn’t rewarded for his devious ways.
The final verdict:
The book tells a nostalgic tale of middle-grade kids trying to enjoy their summer while helping Uncle Spiro through his challenges. The simple story is easy to follow and the blend of humor adds to its appeal. Overall, I recommend you give this book a shot.
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