Skip to Main Content

About The Book

“Wonderfully follows in the tradition of A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories...Endearing...Will win over young readers in a heartbeat.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Quirky and imaginative—postmodern storytelling at its best.” —Kirkus Reviews

An inquisitive polar bear named Duane befriends an array of animals as he discovers where he belongs in this charming classic-in-the making.

In the Very, Very Far North, past the Cold, Cold Ocean and just below the hill that looks like a baby whale, you’ll find Duane and his friends.

Duane is a sweet and curious young bear who makes friends with everyone he meets—whether they’re bossy, like Major Puff the puffin, or a bit vain, like Handsome the musk ox, or very, very shy, like Boo the caribou. For these arctic friends, every day is a new adventure!

Reading Group Guide

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 or

About The Author

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 series. 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

About The Illustrator

Photograph © Kelly Pousette

Kelly Pousette is the illustrator of The Very, Very Far North series and a 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. 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (September 3, 2019)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534433434
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12
  • Lexile ® 840L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

* “Wonderfully follows in the tradition of A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories. . . . Pousette’s soft pencil illustrations work in absolute harmony with the text, accomplishing the seemingly impossible task of making this book even more endearing. Gentle humor, a personable narrative voice, and some elevated vocabulary fortify the simple, character-driven adventures, which will win over young readers in a heartbeat.”

– Booklist, starred review

"Quirky and imaginative—postmodern storytelling at its best."

– Kirkus Reviews

“Duane is kin to Winnie the Pooh, with an affable nature and an endearing cluelessness that leads to moments of sage wisdom. The fourteen episodic chapters following the adventures of Duane and his buddies focus on friendship with a special emphasis on accepting and respecting differences among pals. . . . Direct addresses from the narrator invite youngsters in with gentle humor, and Pousette’s illustrations, black and white spot art appearing with pleasant frequency, give the animal characters an appealing toylike sensibility. This would make a fine companion to Milne’s classic or Lobel’s Frog and Toad, like those serving as a satisfying readaloud as well as a readalone; kiddos whose tastes tend toward the cozy will find warmth and comfort in Duane’s frosty world.”


"A tender early chapter book that will appeal to young readers.”

– School Library Connection

“Each character is well developed and the kindness with which these friends treat each other is instructive without being didactic. . . . The rich language and wordplay make for an excellent read-aloud. Recommended, especially as a read-aloud, for fans of classics like A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, or for those seeking a solid demonstration of positive social interaction.”

– School Library Journal

Awards and Honors

  • Colorado Children’s Book Award Nominee

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

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