‘The Last Bear’ is a beautiful and moving children’s book about eleven-year-old April and her summer on Bear Island. It combines gorgeous writing with a wonderful tale about a girl and her connection to nature – and especially to Bear, the only polar bear remaining on an island cut off by the receding polar ice. Woven throughout is a rallying cry about littering and climate change. This is a lovely little book, perfect to be enjoyed by children and adults alike.
After April’s mother died suddenly in a car accident when she was four, April was left to be raised by her father, a climate scientist. However, his grief at his wife’s loss led him to throw himself into his work, more or less leaving April to her own devices. When he receives an invitation to spend six months manning the research station on Bear Island, April is ecstatic – finally, her and her father can have their own adventures. Instead, her father once again occupies himself with work. But her isolation leads April to make the most extraordinary friend. There are no bears on Bear Island – but there might be just one.
April is the sort of plucky heroine that children’s fiction thrives on. She’s stubborn, determined, and has an absolutely huge heart – especially for animals of all shapes and sizes. Her connection to nature is absolutely beautiful to read about. In many ways, April is reckless and foolhardy, but it’s impossible not to root for her every step of the way.
At its heart, this is a story about two relationships – the one between April and Bear, and the one between April and her father. Both are wonderfully and intelligently written. April’s relationship with Bear is heartwarming to read about – the way she’s determined to help him right from the start, and the way he always seems to understand when April’s having a bad day. Such a close friendship between a young girl and a polar bear is entirely unrealistic, but it doesn’t matter because it’s so beautifully done. April’s relationship with her father is much sadder but no less moving. In many ways, April lost both her parents when her mother died, and the guilt she feels for thinking that is cleverly rendered. The author simultaneously manages to make April wise beyond her years but also feel exactly like a real eleven-year-old girl, a difficult balance.
Hannah Gold’s prose really makes the story come to life. There are beautiful depictions of the wild landscape of Bear Island, but it’s the way Gold infuses the story with emotion that makes it stand out. The reader feels April’s delight, fear, desperation, and determination right along with her, making the happy moments all the more enjoyable and the sad moments even more moving.
The story is illustrated throughout by Levi Pinfold, and his depictions are fantastic, bringing elements of the story to life. The moments he’s chosen to capture are very powerful – especially the final scene. It’s hard to pick out a favourite image as they’re all excellent, but the emotional value of that moment is undeniable.
Overall, this is a wonderful children’s story recommended for children and grown-up-children alike.
Published by Harper Children’s
Hardback:18th February 2021
One of my books of the year!