The Last Bear by Hannah Gold

When a proof copy of The Last Bear by Hannah Gold landed through the doors of the bookshop, it immediately caught my eye. The cover artwork by Levi Pinfold is stunning, and I’m pleased to say has remained the same for the final publication cover. Having that instantaneous ‘pick me up’ appeal is so important for a book – once it’s in your hand, it has a much higher chance of making it to the till. Covers are very important!

But beyond the cover, this book appealed to me in lots of other ways. I need to keep up with the latest children’s fiction to help parents and grandparents with recommendations. The Last Bear ticks a lot of boxes for me. It’s an aesthetically beautiful looking book, containing a story about animals with an important environmental message. I’m sold!

April is 11 years old and small for her age. Her mum has died and she misses her terribly, while her dad is not coping with his grief, burying himself in work and listening to melancholy music. When his job takes them to Bear Island to take scientific weather reports, April hopes they might bond, but very soon she is left to her own devices.

As the only two people on this remote island off the coast of Norway, April walks the landscape each day. She finds more than she bargains for at an old whaling station when she discovers Bear. Bear is a huge poplar bear with an injured paw, starving and trapped on the island. Slowly but surely, April gains Bear’s trust, and the two become best friends. With April’s stay drawing to a close, she is determined to rescue Bear and return him to the Arctic.

I got completely emotionally invested in this story and the friendship between April and Bear. It’s important to put your scepticism aside – it’s a children’s book, anything can happen! I hated that they would have to be parted from each other and wanted them to stay together forever! The reasons for Bear being stuck on the island become clear as the story unfolds. The book teaches children about climate change and the melting ice caps which are having devastating effects on polar bear populations.

I don’t mind admitting I cried reading this book – and I mean proper tears! Stories about animals always get to me; I’ve previously mentioned my nerves whenever dogs appear in books. So perhaps my reaction to The Last Bear is more emotional than the average reader, but I have been watching reviews for this one and it looks like I’m not alone. The end is a real tear-jerker!

The reading for this book will be suitable for anywhere from able 7+ through to 11 or 12. That said, I’m in my thirties and it’s one of my favourites this year!