Ida, always by Caron Levis, Illustrated by Charles Santoso (Koala Books)
HB RRP $24.99
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop
Gus is a polar bear who lives in the New York City Zoo. Ida is his best friend. Every day they swim together, play together, sit together, cuddle, watch and listen to the world around them from their home. Then one day, Ida is not there when Gus emerges from his sleeping quarters.
Based on a pair of real polar bears in New York City’s Central Zoo, Ida, always is a stunning, poignant, breath-taking picture book about friendship, love and death.
The writing is beautiful:
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.
The words have a lyrical and rhythmic quality, and evoke strong images and powerful emotions. They read smoothly and portray the noises of the city, ‘the city’s heartbeat’, the connection between the two bears as well as with the keeper, and with the visitors as well.
The illustrations glow. The emotion of the story is emphasised by these beautiful and moving pictures. The bond between the two friends can be seen strongly and these illustrations capture their togetherness, their care, and the eventual loneliness of Gus, not only through the images but also with the use of colour throughout the pages.
It is not often that a picture book moves me to tears. This one did every time. Even on today’s fourth read I sobbed. An adult reader may like to read it to themselves first, before sharing it with a younger reader. But please do share it; there is so much to gain from this story. It is not just sad; there is friendship, love and hope offered.
This is one of the best picture books I have read all year. Its text and illustrations work together to create an amazing reading experience.