Gus the polar bear lives in the middle of a great park in the middle of a vast city. It’s a humdrum life, every day the same, but at least he has someone to share it with: his best friend Ida. They spend their days playing, swimming, and basking in the sun, listening to the sounds of the city. One day, Ida becomes sick. The zookeeper tells Gus that she won’t get better, and eventually, she’ll pass away. Gus and Ida are devastated, but they stick by each other. Gus helps Ida when she is weak and Ida helps Gus to be strong. Sometimes they are angry, sometimes they are sad, and sometimes they need to be alone for a bit, but no matter what, they support each other. And even after Ida passes and Gus is heartsick with grief, he comes to realize that, in the sounds of their city, in his memories, and in his heart, Ida will be there. Always.
This book is deeply emotional (I shed a tear simply writing this review). Gus and Ida’s journey through mourning, even while Ida is still alive, will strike a chord with anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one. However, it also dispels some mysteries and provides comfort about the grieving process, explaining that it’s okay to laugh, or to be mad, or want to be alone, and it’s okay to grieve. The beautiful, gentle art supports the story perfectly, and the length is fine for little ones. Let me be clear: this is a very sad book, and might be tough on children old enough to understand the subject matter (JJ did not, obviously, and was happy to just point at the bears). However, for a child who is dealing with or learning about illness and loss, this is a book that might provide some understanding and comfort. Overall, it’s a moving, wonderful book, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved.