Caron Levis, Author
Charles Santoso, Illustrator
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Feb. 23, 2016
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes: Polar Bears, Best Friends, Illness, Grief, Loss, Hope
Opening: “Gus Lived in a big park in the middle of an even bigger city. Buildings grew around him and shifted the shape of the sky. Zookeepers poked in and out. Visitors came and went.”
Synopsis: Gus is a polar bear. He lives in a big park in the center of a city. Every day when he crawls out of his cave, his best friend Ida is always there to greet him. They play ball, splash in the water, chase each other, climb onto their favorite rock to gaze at the city and listen to the many noises around them. One morning Ida doesn’t come out of her cave. The zookeeper tells Gus that Ida is very sick and will die. Gus and Ida still have some time together to deal with the news. They stomp and howl, sniffle and cuddle, joke and giggle and wonder where Ida will go. Once Ida passes, Gus realizes that he will always carry their memories together in his heart.
Why I like this book:
Caron Levis has written a tender, sensitive and hopeful book for children about illness, love and loss of a companion. The author’s gentle narrative and heartfelt honesty shows children the endearing friendship between the two polar bears, their reaction to Ida’s illness, the happy and sad moments they spend in their last days together, their curiosity about what will happen when Ida dies, and Gus’s adjustment to life without his best friend.
The text is lyrical and at times poetic as Levis depicts poignant moments between Gus and Ida. When Gus realizes that Ida is going to die, the simple text, “Don’t go, don’t go…DON”T!” is enlarged and emphasizes his pain and grief. I like the use of sounds in choice words.
For a child, the story of Gus and Ida easily opens a discussion about loss in their lives. Loss is a very important event for a child and they rarely have the opportunity to explore it honestly with adults. This book can help children talk about the loss of a pet, a friend or a family member and translate that into their lives. This book belongs on every book shelf.
Charles Santoso’s illustrations are rich, warm and expressive. They beautifully capture the relationship between Gus and Ida and showcase the city skyline and the lush green zoo. The cover will melt your heart.
Resources: There is an Author’s Note at the end. The story of Gus and Ida is inspired by the real-life polar bears, Ida and Gus, who lived together in the New York City’s Central Park Zoo. This book is an excellent resource for parents to talk about loss with their children.
Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.