Bear Island by Matthew Cordell. Feiwel & Friends, 2021. 9781250317162
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
What did you like about the book? Louise and her parents have to say good-bye to their beloved dog Charlie. The little family lives in a house by a lake, and on the lake there is an island. Louise rows out to the island one day, where she used to explore with Charlie. As she experiences all the recognizable (to grown-ups) symptoms of early grief, Louise attracts a bear that comes roaring out of the woods. As Louise confronts the bear, she also confronts her fear, anger, and sadness and ROARS right back at the bear, and he cowers. Over the following days, Louise revisits the bear every day, and things start getting better as the seasons change and time passes, until she visits one winter day and finds the bear retreating to its den to hibernate. The hopeful conclusion includes a new puppy, and Louise returning to the island with her in the spring.
This is a truly lovely and gentle book that is best-suited to be shared with an adult on the first read-through, but I think children would then continue to refer to it as they work through the stages of grief alongside Louise. Children will appreciate and empathize with Louise as she evolves throughout the seasons. Muted tones in the illustrations are appropriate for the tone of the book, and subtle changes in color palette emphasize the changes in Louise. A perfect pick to give to a child in need, or add to a special collection of books on grief for libraries serving elementary-age children.
Anything you did not like about the book? I worry that the very appealing cover might attract a reader unprepared for the bibliotherapy nature of the book.
To whom would you recommend this book? It will be a lovely book to read with youngsters in grades K-3 who are dealing with grief (over loss of a pet or even of a person), along the lines of The Boy and the Gorilla.
Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries
Where would you shelve it? Picture books, or in special collections on social emotional topics (grief)
Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? no
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.
Date of review: 3/30/2021