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Exploring the World with Literature (Grades 2-4): Antarctica

Based on the Project Exploring the World: Seven Continents in One Global Micro-Library (30 books and a guidebook). The project was supported by the ATA Educational Trust, and the complete resource is available to Alberta Teachers through the ATA Library.

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Introduction to the Continent

Antarctica is the fifth largest of the seven continents. It is unique. There are no countries within the continent and very few people live there. Even though it is in the Southern Hemisphere and is surrounded by the Southern Ocean, it is the coldest place on earth!

The land surface of Antarctica is ice and snow. Not much snow falls each year, but what does fall stays and becomes part of the Antarctic ice-sheet. In some places this ice-sheet is over four kilometres thick, with only the tops of mountains poking through the ice. The icy environment and the freezing temperatures make it difficult for people to live here. Early expeditioners from Russia and the United States, followed by crews from several other countries, made valiant efforts to reach and explore the continent.

The people who do live in Antarctica live in the science research stations owned and operated by one of several countries, including the United States, China, Japan, and many others. Most people are scientists, but others such as doctors, pilots, and weather/telecommunication technicians are also there to support the scientists and their work. Increasingly, it is now possible for tourists to visit the continent briefly to experience the spectacular scenery and wildlife.

Just as it is difficult for people to live in Antarctica, it is impossible for most animals to live here. Some seals and whales live in the surrounding icy waters, but perhaps the best-known wildlife on Antarctica are the penguins. Seventeen different types of penguins live south of the equator, but just four live and have their families on the Antarctic continent. They are the Emperor, Gentoo, Adelie, and Chinstrap penguins. Penguins are social animals; they live in colonies and there can be as many as millions in the largest colonies. Scientists study the penguins in Antarctica and strive to ensure they are protected.

From the somewhat limited selection of literature from and about Antarctica, we chose titles to offer young listeners and readers a broad and informative literary experience. Through sharing The Antarctic Habitat we hope readers will be able to conceptualize some of the realities of the unique continent. In the lyrical text of A Mother’s Journey, Sandra Markle tells the factual story of emperor penguins’ lifecycle.  Paul Geraghty’s Solo offers the same lifecycle through exquisite illustrations and the fictional tale of Floe, Fin, and Solo. Curiosity raised about penguins and other features of this intriguing continent will be satisfied by reading and sharing the other selections listed. 

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Further Reading