Moon Bear by Gill Lewis

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Moon Bear by Gill Lewis

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Gill Lewis continues to cement her reputation as one of the strongest voices in support of the natural world and wild animals currently writing in children's literature. A lovely, heart-rending story about the use of bears in traditional Asian medicine.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: May 2013
Publisher: OUP
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0192793535

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Tam's village in rural Laos must make way for a new highway. So Tam and his family move to a new village in the lowlands. They've been promised running water, electricity, and even a school. But the ground in the new village is scattered with bombs left over from America's war in Vietnam. And, while Tam and his father are preparing their field for the new rice crop, one explodes and everything changes again. Tam's father is dead and his mother and sisters won't be able to keep their house unless Tam goes to the city and earns money to send home.

Tam finds himself working for the Doctor at his bear factory. He hates seeing the way the bears are mistreated and milked for their bile, which makes traditional medicine, but he can't allow his family to become destitute. And then, one day, a sick cub arrives. No one expects it to survive, but Tam doesn't give up. The bond he and the cub develop as he cares for him makes Tam resolve to find a way to return him to the wild. But with a family to support, how will he keep his promise?

Oh. Oh, oh, oh. I thought this was a truly affecting story. Tam is doubly sympathetic. He has been taken away from his home: firstly his home in the mountains, amid the natural world he loves, and secondly, from his family, a truly painful break so shortly after the death of his father. But he is also forced into work that goes against every fibre of his being. He has a natural affinity with animals and it crucifies him to be a part of treating the bears so cruelly. You can't help but sympathise with him and root for him as he tries to make the best of an impossible situation fraught with Catch-22 questions no child should ever have to face.

And of course, there are the bears. Imprisoned, half-starved and brutalised, they lead horrific lives. And, as the book goes on, it becomes agonisingly clear to readers that the medicines made with their bile don't even work. It's heartbreaking.

Gill Lewis has a reputation for being one of the strongest voices in support of the natural world writing for children today and Moon Bear will cement that reputation further. She has a knack for storytelling, she can see things from a child's point of view, and her research is impeccable. Still better, the overall effect is inspirational. Three cheers for her, say I.


Animal lovers should read Lewis's two previous books, Sky Hawk and White Dolphin. We also loved her The Closest Thing to Flying. And everyone, everywhere, should read Call of the Wild by Jack London. We had our reservations about A Million Shades of Grey by Cynthia Kadohata but it might sit well alongside Moon Bear.

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