Worthy winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2022 and our stand-out favourite of the year to date, The Last Bear by Hannah Gold is an exquisitely lovely read. It is the story of 11-year-old April and her time spent living on a meteorological station on an island in the Arctic circle. In this beautiful land of the midnight sun, the ice caps are melting and the polar bears are gone. Except, April has seen one, silhouetted on the horizon. A bear that will change her life, in a moving clarion call for our changing planet.
We begin in England, where April lives with her preoccupied scientist father, in a house that emits an air of ineffable sadness. Its inhabitants are sad too. April’s mother died in an accident some years ago and the little girl feels like ‘she’s taken half of Dad with her…unfortunately it was the half of him that was more fun.’
When he’s offered a job on remote Bear Island, April hopes they’ll find time for sledging and building snowmen, but Dad continues to bury his sadness in work, and her life feels more solitary than ever. Until the day she encounters a starving and wounded polar bear on the island’s northerly coast, his paw strangulated by blue plastic and his way home to Svalbard an impossibility with such low levels of sea ice.
Determined to help the distressed creature, April hatches a plan, one that will require courage, resourcefulness, and the forging of mutual trust between girl and wild animal.
This is a magnificent book, alive with beautiful imagery, and breathtaking illustrations courtesy of artist, Levi Pinfold. Gold strikes a careful balance between raising environmental awareness and giving her readers a suspenseful and absorbing adventure tale. A story of affinity in its myriad forms, it’s astonishing that The Last Bear is Gold’s first novel.
A debut that dazzles like snow under the Arctic sun.
The Last Bear by Hannah Gold is published by Harper Collins Children’s Books, 304 pages.