Ida, always by Caron Levis

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Ill. by Charles Santosa. Scholastic, 2016. ISBN 9781742761909
(Age: 5+) Recommended. Polar bears, Zoos, Cities, Death and grieving, New York, Friendship. Based on the true story of two polar bears at New York's Central Park Zoo, this emotional story will have all readers sniffling by the end of the tale. Ida and Gus have lived a long while at the zoo, where they are seen by the many visitors, and are looked after by the keeper, Sonya.
The two bears wait for each other in the morning, ready to feed together, swim together, play with the ball, sit on their island and watch the city around them. They listen to its sounds, and watch the skyscrapers reach into the cloudy sky. They are inseparable, and always there to be with each other. But one day Ida does not appear, and Gus must do all the things they did together, by himself. Sonya comes to tell him that Ida is unwell, and so the keeper and Gus look after her, making sure she is comfortable and in no pain. They remember the things they did together, reminding each other that they will always be there, always. She eventually dies and Gus misses her, all alone doing the things they did together. But when he listen to the sounds of the city, he knows she is with him, always.
This wonderful story of death and grieving will have resonance for many children who have had a death in the family. They will recognise the process of death, some times knowing that it is imminent, and see the way people deal with the process of dying. They will see too that although that person has died, things live on to remind them of that person, there will be memories that keep that person alive.
The soft illustrations will entrance the younger readers who will look at the bears and their lives in the zoo with fresh eyes. They will see the images in the clouds, and the skyline of New York, the depiction of what these huge animals get up to in a zoo, and perhaps ponder how different their lives would be in the wild. This will be a lovely read aloud, but have the tissues handy.
Fran Knight