Review of A Bear Far from Home

A Bear Far from Home A Bear Far from Home
by Susan Fletcher ; illus. by Rebecca Green
Primary     Schwartz/Random    40 pp.       g
9/22     978-0-593-18189-8     $18.99
Library ed.  978-0-593-18190-4    $21.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-18191-1    $11.99

Fact: “King Haakon IV of Norway gave Henry III of England a white bear, which went to live in the Tower of London in 1251 or 1252.” Little else is known other than that King Henry decreed that the creature should be tethered and let out of its cage every day to swim and fish in the Thames. Fletcher, who has previously written about this unusual piece of history in her middle-grade novel Journey of the Pale Bear , can only speculate about the bear’s exact species (she chose a polar bear, indigenous to Norway), gender (female), fate (why the king allowed it to go outside), and feelings (finding home again in the river). The text is clear about what are educated guesses (“imagine how the world must have seemed”; “we’ll never know for sure”) and “what we do know.” Green’s rich-hued gouache and colored-pencil illustrations, featuring gold-framed panels and ornamentation, were inspired by early medieval illustrations, and they arguably steal the show here, providing a real sense of place and time. She also skillfully varies colors and perspectives within her decorative panels and realistically depicts the bear’s movements and expressions, all of which help convey the emotions the bear might have experienced on her journey back to the water. Back matter gives information and bibliographies not only about the bear but also about the exotic-animals menagerie that used to exist at the Tower of London.

From the November/December 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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