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Photo courtesy of Kim Constantinesco.

A Polar Bear and Paraplegic Skier Star in This New Children’s Book

A Denver journalist parlays what could have been a tragic snowboarding accident into a kids' book that doesn't shy away from the issues.

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If you simply heard the title of Denverite Kim Constantinesco’s new children’s book, Solar the Polar, you might expect to read a cute little story about a polar bear. But the minute your tyke opens to the first page, you’ll understand that this is not your average picture book. In fact, it’s the most Colorado kids’ tale of all time.

For instance, Solar is a snowboarder, and he has to find a new place to shred because his Arctic habitat is melting. Then Solar meets Sunny, a paraplegic who uses a sit ski (a seat attached to a single ski) to schuss down the slopes, and must figure out how to save her when she’s caught in an avalanche. “I just wanted to show kids what’s possible,” Constantinesco says, “to really demonstrate to them that the human spirit was designed to overcome obstacles and live unconventional lifestyles.”

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Constantinesco has experience in doing just that. A longtime snowboarder herself, she survived a horrific accident in 2011 when she went off a jump that crumbled beneath her at Keystone Resort—and landed right on her head. She found out later that she’d crushed a disc in her neck and eventually underwent surgery to replace the non-functional disc with a cadaver bone.

The crash ultimately inspired Constantinesco to launch the journalism website Purpose2Play.com, which tells uplifting stories about athletes who succeed despite limitations. “Before I started Purpose2Play, I was covering the Broncos,” she says. “I knew there were sports stories out there that went a lot deeper than what’s happening on the gridiron every week and some of the decisions those players are making off the field, which are not so good. I wanted to shine the spotlight on people who are doing positive things in the world.”

Solar the Polar, too, grew out of that mindset and Constantinesco’s near-debilitating accident. She particularly wanted to focus on what Sunny could do instead of what her disability prevented her from doing. Her choice of a polar bear as the title character was purposeful as well; as she says, “They thrive in the harshest of conditions, just like humans are capable of rising above adversity to accomplish great things.”

The illustrator of Solar the Polar, Idaho resident Jessica Linn Evans, worked closely with Constantinesco to add visuals to the rich story, discussing everything from what color Polar’s stocking cap would be (pink) to how his snowboard would look (yellow with green flames shooting toward the nose). Evans even studied pictures of Constantinesco snowboarding and borrowed some of the journalist’s favorite moves for Solar to do.

Although the concept came together easily, the meter was more challenging for Constantinesco to master. Crafting rhyming couplets isn’t quite the same as penning 400-word nonfiction stories, after all. But just reading the stanza, “From that moment on, the friends never forgot that is why backcountry safety is taught / They both understood that there’s a good reason to ski with a buddy in high winter season” makes us hope she writes a sequel.

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Buy Solar the Polar on Amazon or Barnes & Noble

Mary Clare Fischer, Assistant Editor

Mary Clare Fischer co-edits 5280’s Compass, Adventure, and Culture sections; writes for multiple sections of the magazine; and blogs weekly about health and wellness for 5280.com.

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