‘The Last Bear’ by Hannah Gold and illustrated by Levi Penfold (recommended for ages 8+) is a deeply moving, hopeful and inspiring story about eleven year old April, who travels with her father, a scientist, to a remote Arctic Island, Bear Island, to live for six months during the northern summer. His job is to conduct meteorological research and record the data to detect changes for the Norwegian government. April and her father are the only people on the island. April’s Dad tells her that despite the name of the island, there are no polar bears there because the melting ice caps mean polar bears can no longer access Bear Island from the closest mainland area near Svalbard, it is simply too far for them to swim. However, one summer night, April sees the most incredible sight she has ever seen, a majestic polar bear.
Since April’s Mum passed away, her Dad is withdrawn and distant. He buries himself in work. This intensifies on Bear Island, leaving April with long, endless days to explore this seemingly vast land of emptiness, so quiet and untouched. On her travels, April discovers a beautiful polar bear that from a distance appears powerful. It’s only when April looks at the bear through binoculars that she discovers the bear appears very thin and is moving gingerly. So begins April and Bear’s journey together as April gains Bear’s trust, nurses Bear back to health and formulates a plan to rescue him. Together they experience a summer chock full of adventure. They discover a way to communicate and understand each other. For each of them, it is a summer of discovery and finding their voices.
This story is brimming with beautiful lyrical writing, rich descriptions of the landscape which are vivid and sensory and transport the reader to the desolate Arctic Circle. Evocative illustrations are peppered throughout the book and bring the story to life. The themes include the environment, father and daughter relationships, a child and animal bond, the power of one to make a difference, isolation while working and living in a remote Arctic outpost and grief.
This empowering story highlights the effects of climate change and the idea that one person, no matter how old they are, can make a difference. This story explores relationships and bonds in all their forms – deeply connected, strained, tragically altered, finding a “new normal” amongst loss and grief, the unbreakable bond between an animal and child as well as the relationship that people’s actions have on the environment and the habitat for many animals.
One final tip, do peep under the dust jacket for a lovely treat!