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The Last Bear

The Last Bear

Published: 18 Feb 2021

Hardback, 304 pages

Recommended for age 7+ and 9+

By Hannah Gold

Illustrated by Levi Pinfold

Published by HarperCollins Publishers

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There are no polar bears left on Bear Island. At least, that's what April's father tells her when his scientific research takes them to this remote Arctic outpost for six months.

But one endless summer night, April meets one. He is starving, lonely and a long way from home. Determined to save him, April begins the most important journey of her life...

This moving story will win the hearts of children the world over and show them that no one is too young or insignificant to make a difference. The Last Bear is a celebration of the love between a child and an animal, a battle cry for our world and an irresistible adventure with a heart as big as a bear's.

Tagged climate action , environment , green issues , islands , natural world and polar bears

Hannah Gold: The Last Bear is a heartwarming story about a girl and her friendship with a polar bear and concern for the environment.

The Book Band Grey pack

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An easy purchase pack of grey Banded Books, You can ourchase inividual titles or view the full collection.

  • The Last Bear
  • Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet#1
  • How to Save the World with a Chicken and an Egg
  • Planet Omar: Epic Hero Flop : Book 4
  • Planet Omar: Incredible Rescue Mission Book 3
  • Public Enemy Number 2
  • Planet Omar: Unexpected Super Spy Book 2
  • The French Confection
  • South by South East
  • The Falcon's Malteser
  • The London Eye Mystery
  • The Great Cave
  • The Blurred Man
  • Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth
  • The Unadoptables
  • Head Kid
  • The Person Controller
  • The Great Flood
  • Luna
  • Frost
  • Framed
  • A Library of Lemons
  • The House at the Edge of Magic
  • The Lion Above the Door
  • The Impossible Boy
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  • Fabio the World's Greatest Flamingo Detective: Peril at Lizard Lake
  • The Tail of Emily Windsnap #1
  • Millions
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  • Fabio The World's Greatest Flamingo Detective: Mystery on the Ostrich Express
  • Emily Windsnap and the Light of the Midnight Sun #5
  • Emily Windsnap and the Siren;s Secret #4
  • Emily Windsnap and the Castle in the Mist
  • Emily Windsnap and the Monster from the Deep #2
  • Julius Zebra: Grapple with the Greeks
  • Julius Zebra: Bundle with the Britons
  • Because of Winn-Dixie
  • The Demon Headmaster and the Prime Minister's Brain
  • Love That Dog
  • The Bolds to the Rescue
  • The Bolds Go Wild
  • The Bolds in Trouble

The Library Boost for 9+ pack

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  • Tamarind & the Star of Ishta
  • The Last Bear
  • The Shark Caller
  • The Boy Who Met a Whale
  • The Infinite
  • Zombierella: Fairy Tales Gone Bad
  • How to Save the World with a Chicken and an Egg
  • Little Badman and the Time-travelling Teacher of Doom
  • The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke
  • The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh
  • Wave Riders
  • The Wild Way Home
  • The Three Impossibles
  • Two Sisters: A Story of Freedom
  • Boy, Everywhere
  • Eagle Warrior
  • The Incredible Record Smashers
  • The Strangeworlds Travel Agency Book 1
  • The Wizard in the Wood
  • The Greatest Inventor
  • The Crackledawn Dragon
  • Emmy Levels Up
  • The Graveyard Riddle
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Reviewed by Nikki Gamble

The Last Bear, Hannah Gold’s debut novel for children is a warm, gentle love story which celebrates the deep, intuitive relationships that can be forged between humans and animals.

April Wood lives with her widowed father, a scientist with a specialism in measuring weather patterns and climate change. When a letter arrives offering him a research post on Bear Island, an isolated island in the Arctic Circle between Norway and Svalbard. He jumps at the chance telling April that she can join him on the adventure.

‘April,’ he said, leaning forward. ‘Six months in the Arctic will teach you more than six months at school ever will.’

She took a second look at him. His eyes were bright and there were two pink spots of colour on his cheeks, The felling fizzed through her again.

‘When do we go?’

April is filled with excitement and expectation. Does this mean her father will have more time to spend with her and will she get to see polar bears? Her hopes are dashed when she is told that bears haven’t lived on Bear Island for many, many years.  And she soon discovers that her father’s work schedule leaves no time for snowy adventures together.

Left to amuse herself, magical things start to happen when she encounters an injured polar bear, caught in the plastic waste that has drifted ashore. The story tells how bear and girl learn to trust each other and how April communicates in the special instinctive ways that some people have with animals.

The trope of the special relationship between a girl and polar bear extends from a tradition that reaches back to the Norwegian fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon to the more recent reworking in Edith Pattou’s North Child and of course Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. There’s something compelling about the vulnerability of the child and the imposing but tender bear. It seems to me that the bear in this story is the counterweight for the father possessing the qualities that April longs for in him, attentiveness, playfulness, an outward expression of love. In this respect, the story might put you in mind of Anthony Browne’s Gorilla, where a toy gorilla that comes to life fulfils the same function.

Mention must be made of Levi Pinfold’s stunning illustrations. Not as an afterthought but as integral to the storytelling. As with his previous illustrated fiction, The Song from Somewhere Else and The Secret Horses of Briar Hill, Pinfold adds atmosphere through his landscapes and emotional depth through his depiction of character. Tribute should be paid to the designer too as the placing of pictures through the text aids the flow of the narrative. It was a wise choice to have suggestive rather than detailed chapter headings which also maintain the seamlessness in the storytelling.

Hannah Gold proves that she is adept at conveying emotion, whether it is the delightful way in which she describes April’s feelings, or her father’s complex emotions, conveyed through gesture, action and the things left unsaid, or the bear’s body language.

A climate action message is threaded through the story: it is the melting of the polar ice cap that has led to bear being stranded on Bear Island and the impact of plastic waste compounds the threat to his existence. Neither is dealt with in a heavy-handed way, but through the feeling the story engenders for the main characters, readers will be given a reason to care about these things. In the classroom, this is an opportunity for a positive rather than catastrophising discussion. As April reminds the adults in the story, ‘it’s all our responsibility’ to effect change in the ways that we can

This is a lovely debut that will appeal especially to children who love animal stories or enjoy a quieter, reflective read.

 

Nikki Gamble
Formerly a teacher (secondary and primary) and university lecturer, with over 35 years’ experience, Nikki has worked extensively in schools across the UK and internationally. She is the author of Exploring Children’s Literature now in its fourth edition (Sage, 2019) Co-author of Guiding Readers, winner of the UKLA Academic Book award (UCL, 2016). Nikki runs workshops for teachers, librarians, students and researchers on different aspects of children's literature, an online summer school and an Audience with events, celebrating writers and illustrators who have made an exceptional contribution to the world of children's books. Further information exploringchildrensliterature.uk
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