The Last Bear by Hannah Gold

Bear looked at her with his dark brown eyes, twinkling not just with the reflection of the sea but with something far deeper. It was a look that covered time and space and everything in between. And it could have lasted forever or it could have lasted seconds. Looking back she was never quite sure.

When I first read this masterpiece I fell in love with it immediately. It could have been down to reading Hannah’s note to readers that features prior to the story itself that did it, in which she talks of her reasons for writing The Last Bear and the significance for the key aspects of the story, its characters, and the important message for readers that she has portrayed in this fictional story, but by equal measure my instant admiration for this book could just as easily be as a result of the genuine respect for, and portrayal of, the natural world that is evident in every chapter Hannah has written.

This was Hannah Gold’s debut title, which published in hardback last year, and in paperback earlier this year, and she has written this book with the same passion for the natural world that we love David Attenborough displaying in one of his documentaries. It is compelling, rich, heart warming content of the highest quality, and her depiction of the landscapes is so incredibly immersive that readers will cherish every moment spent alongside April, the young girl at the centre of the story.

Readers get to travel to Bear Island, a tiny desolate place located between Norway and Spitsbergen, and named as such because Bears would travel there in winter months, until the melting of ice caps prevented them from doing so. April’s story may be fictitious but the location in which it is set is real, and readers can find out more information relating to Bear Island if they wanted to after finishing this book. I did because I felt so touched by what I read, and was eager to see pictures of the island, and learn more about those that inhabit this majestic landscape.

When her dad secures a six month post on the island the pair travel to what genuinely feels like an entirely different world to that which we are familiar with, and in all the best ways. The weather is harsh, they are the only two people dwelling there, and April’s dad is preoccupied entirely by work, but the landscape is breathtakingly beautiful and offers plenty to explore, which is exactly what April does as makes the most of her time there. Day after day the young girl can be found solo exploring every accessible inch of the island after becoming convinced she has seen a Polar Bear there, despite being told they no longer inhabit the island.

Her perseverance pays off, and April finds herself face to face with Bear, and feels compelled to help free him from the plastic that is wrapped around his paw. The young girl is patient in building Bear’s trust, and it pays off when she is finally able to help free him, and the bond between the pair grows from strength to strength. It is utterly magical, and the adventures they have, across the length and breadth of the island, is the stuff of dreams -especially when April gets to ride on Bear’s back after spraining her ankle. You become so invested in this book that you genuinely feel as though you are right there, with the cold stinging your face as you enjoy every aspect of April and Bear’s adventures!

The imagery conjured by this powerful writing is at times incredibly emotive, whether it be April’s first interaction with an injured Bear, or later in the book when the reason for Bear coming to be on the island, now trapped and alone, is revealed. I had tears on several occasions including when the pair part ways as the story concludes, albeit with a ‘happy’ ending, and also when I came to realise how much more April and Bear have in common then we initially are led to believe. I also felt the anger and frustration evoked by the issues that befall this incredibly brave duo, which is a testament to how talented author Hannah Gold is, and the influence she has over the reader through her authentic writing of the severities facing the natural world through climate change, and plastic pollution too.

There are many poignant layers to this story, offering readers an insightful perspective on hugely relevant topics including the loss of a parent, climate change and its detrimental impact, waste pollution, and loneliness. What makes this book really stand out is that it gives you an understanding of how each of these impacts both the human character, April, and a viewpoint from the animal kingdom through Bear too, and it does so with such compassion and empathy whilst ensuring the significance to both is not lost on the reader.

You feel empowered by this book to want to help reduce the negative impact on the natural world by the time you are just a few chapters in, and by the time you have finished reading this book you also feel emboldened in the mission to stop climate change, especially with the message threaded throughout The Last Bear, that is that all of us making small changes as individuals will collectively make a bigger positive impact overall. All of which makes this such inspiring content for the next generation to have the opportunity to access and read, and is why this title is so highly recommended.

The Last Bear is stunningly illustrated throughout by the incredibly talented Levi Penfold, and his illustrations breathe life into the characters on the page, as well as portraying the unfolding scene with a powerful immersivity, and ensure that readers feel connected to the characters as the story unfolds. The illustrations compliment the text perfectly as they depict the beauty within this animal themed adventure with such incredible attention to detail.

Since publication The Last Bear has been nominated/won the following

You can find activity sheets, and hear Hannah read an extract from The Last Bear here, which publishers HarperCollins have created, and you can find out more about Authors for Ocean here – Hannah Gold is one of the many talented authors and illustrators that feature on their list of those looking to ‘inspire children, teachers and parents to love nature and wildlife’. To adopt a Polar Bear through the WWF, make a donation, and learn more about these majestic mammals check out their website here.

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