The Last Bear by Hannah Gold

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The Last Bear by Hannah Gold

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Beautiful, exciting and heartwarming; this is the sort of book that immediately inspires you to go adventuring, or to find out how you can help to save our planet like April!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: February 2021
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0008411282

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April's father, a scientist, has been given a job on a remote island called Bear Island, and he accepts the job deciding to take his daughter April with him. They live alone anyway, since April's mother died some time before, and he feels it will be educational for her to experience the island and all its natural beauty. April already has an affinity with nature, and she's excited to travel with her father, thinking of all the fun things they will be able to experience together on the island. But when they get there, her father finds that his work monitoring and recording the temperatures just takes up too much of his time, and so April is left to explore by herself. Her father had reassured her that there were no longer any bears living on Bear Island, but one day April thinks she catches a glimpse of one, and so she sets out to find the Bear, and then when she sees he is injured, to befriend and help him.

I'm a big fan of bears, and of stories about bears, and the stunning cover on this book just begs to be picked up and read. April is immediately engaging as a character, and you find yourself feeling both worried about her as she is left to pretty much fend for herself, and also jealous of her, because she is free to roam and explore without any parental intervention! I have to say, for much of the book I was very frustrated with April's dad and his criminal neglect of his daughter! But he is a grieving husband, who clearly misses his wife and has lost his way in how to speak to and help his daughter. He is just as lost as April. You'll be glad to hear that I did come around to him in the end, and, after all, she couldn't have had any adventures with Bear at all if he'd been any kind of a decent father when they first arrived on the island! But the ups and downs in their relationship through the story are interesting, and moving, to read.

More down-to-earth grown-ups will need to suspend disbelief (and worry for April) even further, however, as April does indeed befriend the Bear, to the point of being able to sit on him to travel across the island, and sit with him, feeding him oatcakes and peanut butter! Of course, these are things that are simply not possible with a real polar bear, but I've certainly felt that fantasy wish of being able to sit next to a big, beautiful bear and rest my head against their fur. So I read mostly with a sense of awe and wonder, over the relationship that grows between April and her Bear.

There are lovely descriptions of the tentative steps April takes in befriending and helping Bear, as well as their journeys and adventures around the island. Things really get tense towards the end, as it becomes an even bigger action and adventure story, and there are moments of peril galore! But for me, the side to the story I really liked was of April finding her voice. She learns to roar with Bear, a real deep-down bear roar, but at the same time, she begins to find a way to voice her feelings with her father. And as she finds she can talk to him, her father, in turn, realises the situation they've gotten into since his wife died, and he also finds his voice too.

It's a story of friendship, between April and Bear, and of how even without words they are able to understand and help each other. And it's also a story about our climate, the problems we, and the animals on the planet face because of climate change, and the rally call for everyone to try to do something about it. It reinforces the idea that nobody is too young to make a difference, which is something we've all become more aware of since Greta Thurnberg hit the headlines.

This is a wonderful story, with highs and lows, beauty and laughter, and it is packed full of heart.

You might also like to read Pax by Sara Pennypacker. Or for more books with an environmental theme try The White Horse Trick by Kate Thompson and Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar. You'll also love The Lost Whale by Hannah Gold and Levi Pinfold

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