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IDA, ALWAYS by Caron Levis


by Caron Levis ; illustrated by Charles Santoso

Pub Date: Feb. 23rd, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4814-2640-4
Publisher: Atheneum

This is a picture book about loss and grief, so it is probably not a coincidence that it is pictorially dominated by skies.

Santoso paints amazing skies. There’s a spectacular view of the sky on almost every page of the story. When the sky isn’t visible, it’s usually reflected in a pool of water. They’re city skies, so the clouds are shaped like buses and taxis, but sometimes they look like bears chasing each other through the air. This is apt, as the main characters in the book are Gus and Ida, two polar bears living in the city zoo. Some days, Ida is too weak to swim or play, and sometimes she coughs or sleeps too long. The book is very blunt about what’s happening: “one day, when her body stopped working, Ida would die.” Levis writes about death and the bears’ mutual devotion with surprising beauty: “There were growling days and laughing days / and days that mixed them up.” But some of the most affecting passages are hardly poetic at all. Gus’ distress is emphasized in large, bold type: “ ‘Don’t go,’ he growled. ‘Don’t go, don’t go…DON’T!’ ” The final image shows Gus beneath a cloud shaped like a lone bear. The text says: “And Ida is right there. Always.”

If the text is occasionally sentimental or overwritten, the pictures are so simple they’re heartbreaking.

(Picture book. 4-8)