Thursday, 23 December 2010

BOOK REVIEW - Polar The Titanic Bear - By: Daisy Corning Stone Spedden

Delightful Historical Read
We have borrowed many books on the R. M. S. Titanic disaster from the library.  In the back of one of these, the picture book Polar - The Titanic Bear  was recommended for further reading.

This delightful childrens' book is based on a true story and was written by Daisy Corning Stone Spedden as a Christmas present for her only son, Douglas, in 1913, when the boy was just eight years old.  Daisy even painted a cover illustration for the story.

Original painted book cover
This little book was found amongst her belongings by a relative - Leighton H. Coleman III and he set about having the story published for others to enjoy.

Daisy, her husband Frederic, young Douglas and his Nanny (the boy called her "Muddie Boons" as he couldn't pronounce her actual name - Elizabeth Margaret Burns) were world travellers.  While the family lived just outside New York City, they spent their summers near Bar Harbor. Maine and their winters at resorts around the world.  In the introduction Coleman explains:  "The Speddens traveled on luxurious ocean liners that visited exotic ports in the Caribbean, Africa and the south of France.  Douglas was lucky enough to see things that other children only read about, including the Panama Canal, one of the greatest engineering achievements of all time, and the Eiffel Tower, the highest structure in the world in 1912" (Page 6).

Douglas (with Polar at his feet), next to his parents on a hotel balcony in Madeira
The family considered themselves lucky to obtain passage on the R. M. S. Titanic as it was the "biggest, newest ship in the world -- a floating palace that contained every modern convenience and luxury." Little did the Speddens realize the ship would be halted on its maiden voyage across the ocean by an iceberg.  And so, the family boarded the vessel at Cherbourg, France.

The book is told from the viewpoint of "Polar" a little stuffed bear that is given to Douglas as a gift.  But the tale begins in Germany when Polar is first created.

Newly manufactured - Polar
Workers at the Margarete Steiff Company in Germany
From the factory, Polar is shipped to New York City and is put on display in
F. A. O. Schwarz -- the largest toy shop in the world.  It is here "Aunt Nannie" purchases the bear as a gift for Douglas.

Page 15 - Aunt Nannie presents Polar to Douglas as the Spedden family leaves on a trip on the Caronia
The family spend time in Madeira (near Portugal) for several months.  While there, Douglas is struck down with measles but manages to recover from this illness.  Polar is by his bedside and must be disinfected.  In early April, the family sailed back to the United States on the Adriatic and Polar was taken to his new home in Tuxedo Park (near New York City).  During the summer the bear travelled to the family's summer house near Bar Harbor, Maine.  When winter came, Polar and his Master enjoyed playing in the snow.

Page 23 - Winter fun

Alisdair and Isobel were amused to see a photograph of Polar, taken one Christmas Day, with Polar sitting at his own special table for the holiday meal. When New Year arrived, the Spedden family were off to Panama, where Douglas and Polar visited the site of the Panama Canal (which was under construction).  They eventually arrived in Bermuda where Douglas and Polar enjoyed playing on the sandy beach.  The next winter, the family set sail on the Caronia again - this time enroute to Algiers, in northern Africa.

Page 27 - Celebrating George Washington's Birthday in Algiers in February 1912
From Algiers the family set sail for the south coast of France, staying in a hotel at Monte Carlo. Cannes was the next stop on the trip, where the Spedden family stayed for nearly a month.  Then they took the night train to Paris.

Pages 30 & 31  Paris (The Tuileries Gardens)

It was time to return to America and the family readied themselves to sail on the R. M. S. Titanic. For the first few days, Douglas and Polar enjoy themselves.  They play games on deck, meet new friends and once "Master" even sent Polar flying down the banister of The Grand Staircase!

Page 32 - A Titanic postcard, a diamond shaped luggage sticker
and a photograph of The Nomadic that carried Douglas and his family out to the Titanic
Page 33 - Polar arrives onboard the R. M. S. Titanic
Page 36 - A deck chair in the upper deck sun parlor
It was the fifth night at sea when the unthinkable happened.  Douglas and Polar were in bed.  Muddie Boons woke Douglas and began to dress him "in a great hurry."

Page 38 - Dressing quickly after the ship struck the iceberg.
  Can you see Polar in the little net rack beside the bed??
Douglas wearing his lifebelt, holding tightly to Polar
The family managed to get to the top deck and to the safety of a lifeboat. The entire family (and Muddie Boons) were able to get into the lifeboat that was lowered into the sea.

Page 40 & 41 - Waiting for rescue in the lifeboat.  Douglas is sleeping, still holding Polar
"Toward three o'clock in the morning, an icy breeze sprang up and the sea grew rough.  Master opened his eyes and said he felt seasick.  But Muddie Boons, who had him on her lap, soon quieted him with a story of Cinderella.  About an hour later, someone suddenly shouted, 'Here comes a ship!'  Looking towards the horizon, we first saw a white light and then some rockets.  As the ship gradually approached, we feared she might either run us down or not see us at all, since we had no lantern.  But soon she slowed down and then stopped" (Pages 42 and 43).

Page 42 - Waiting in Lifeboat Number 3
Page 43 - The Carpathia coming to the rescue
Page 45 - After the occupants of Lifeboat Number 3 were rescued, Polar was left floating in the small boat
Where was Polar?  Daisy Spedden thought the toy had fallen overboard and bought an ugly little brown bear to replace the lost stuffed animal.  But suddenly Polar "felt a terrible jerk, and then another.  The boat swayed dangerously. I nearly fell into the icy water as several sailors pulled the lifeboat up to the decks of the Carpathia.  I slid down the ribs of the boat, banging my back against each one along the way, and landed in a puddle.  'That's the last of them, then,' said a sailor.  He turned the boat over with a bang, and I fell onto the hard deck in a wet, miserable heap.  I lay there for what must have been hours.  Then I heard a kind voice.  'Hello, there!  Fancy seeing you again.'  It was one of the sailors from the Titanic.  he picked me up and squeezed the water out of me, quite taking my breath away.  Then he carried me down some stairs and into a warm room.  It was full of passengers with blankets around them.  Many of them held hot drinks" (Page 46 and 47).

Page 46 - Polar is rescued by a kind sailor

Page 47 - Photo showing how the lifeboats were hauled on board the Carpathia
"Polar!"  a familiar voice shouted from across the room.  It was Master.  He rushed over and took me in his arms.  I was delighted to see him again, too.... As soon as master saw me, however, he hugged and kissed me.  He took me to bed with him that night and every night after, forgetting all about the other bear" (Page 48).   

Page 49 - The joyful reunion of Polar and Douglas

Page 51 - Sailing into New York Harbor in the middle of a thunderstorm
The family returned to a quiet country life in Tuxedo Park and the book ends with a picture of Polar snuggled up in his Master's arms.

This is where the tale of Polar the little white bear concludes.  In the epilogue, however, we learn that just three years after the sinking of the Titanic, 9-year old Douglas was killed in a car accident near the family's summer camp in Maine.  It was one of the first automobile accidents in the state.  No one knows what happened to Polar the bear.  Frederic Spedden died in 1947 and his wife Daisy passed away in 1950.  The Speddens had no other children.

The illustrations (which I have photographed) were done by Laurie McGaw, who lives near Toronto.  The back flap of the book jacket says she has "always been captivated by Edwardian art."  While I realize this blog post is heavy on photographs - the colourful pictures are so detailed and captivating that it was hard to choose which ones to showcase the story of Polar and his Master, Douglas. The jacket also tells us that "since discovering Daisy Spedden's possessions in an about-to-be-discarded family trunk, Leighton H. Coleman III has been fascinated by his relatives and has become a bona-fide ocean liner buff.  He lives in Stony Brook, Long Island, and New York City."

Polar - The Titanic Bear is a Madison Press Book and was produced for Little, Brown and Company.  It was published in 1994.  This historical picture book would be a wonderful addition to any collection and is well worth checking out of your local library.

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