This is the story of two best friends, Gus and Ida, who are polar bears in the zoo of a big city, and who played together every day. Then one day Ida didn’t come out of her cave, and the zookeeper told Gus Ida was very sick.
Gus rushed to Ida and growled: “ ‘Don’t go,’ he growled. ‘Don’t go, don’t go . . . DON’T!’ ” Ida growled back, and they laughed together, but Ida continued to grow sicker. “There were growling days and laughing days and days that mixed them up.”
So they helped each other cope, telling each other how much they will miss the other, while occasionally needing time alone. But mostly, they pass the time together:
“They would cuddle until the sky grew dark
and the lamps of the city clicked on.
They would wave good night a thousand times.
Then wave a few times more.”
Then one day Ida died.
Sometimes Gus forgets she is gone, and looks for her. But mostly he remembers her, and her words that you don’t have to see something to feel it. So Gus knows “Ida is right there. Always.”
Illustrator Charles Santoso has created lovely but simple paintings that show an impressive range of emotions on the faces of the bears. The last picture, in which Gus sees the form of Ida in the shape of a cloud above him, is especially poignant.
In an Author’s Note, we learn that this story was inspired by two real polar bears named Ida and Gus who lived together in New York City’s Central Park Zoo. They were constant companions. Ida died in 2011, and Gus two years later.
Evaluation: This book showing the emotional journey taken when a loved one becomes sick is meant to be uplifting and help children cope with death. It is a lovely portrait of friendship and loss and how best to deal with it. I know I was helped with a loss of my own by being told the many ways in which that person would still be with me, and it is comforting to learn that.
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016