Mark R. Leaman’s The Adventures of Runnel, The Ice Bear is a Christmas-y (though not exclusively) read for kids. Older kids, preferably, with expanded vocabularies and the ability to get through pages without the aid of illustrations.
Which is not to say that Runnel makes due without pictures. Artist Genevieve Selene Leaman Strickland contributed five pencil drawings (which, oddly, run vertical rather than horizontal) to the book. Runnel’s adventures, told in five parts, take readers to the mystical, imaginary world of the North Pole where, thanks to a magical crystal, “animals can walk and talk just like people.”
Runnel lacks a certain children’s book slickness, but the five stories each combine elements of adventure, danger and problem solving that make them compelling and engaging. There’s also a dose of morality (five young polar bear cubs learn responsibility when helping Santa load his sleigh; a naughty boy channels his angst into a snowman which—thanks to the special crystal—comes to life, badness intact) and some Narnia-esque magic.
Runnel, the title character, is a fantastic creature originally fashioned from snow by a young girl. Thanks to the North Pole crystal, he not only comes to life but is imbued with the power to help those in need. Like the legendary Frosty the Snowman, Runnel can melt but is never gone for good. Like Santa says, “Runnel is a magic bear. Didn’t you know? He’ll be back the next time someone’s in trouble. Don’t worry!”
—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter