Like Nâam-pèng, the bravest bee in a much-loved story, a boy faces a monster—bear-bile farming—and makes a difference.
When the moon bear cub that Tam first encountered in the forests near his family’s old village arrives as a captive for the bear farm in a Laotian city where the 12-year-old has been sent to work, Tam promises to get them both back to their mountain home. Tam’s village life ended with his tribe’s relocation to the lowlands. Then a bomb, buried in their new farmland during the war 40 years earlier, kills his father. Gen. Chan, responsible for the relocation, arranges employment for young Tam in a city “farm” where bears are kept in cages so that bile, used for traditional medicine, can be extracted from their gall bladders. Gen. Chan is also a customer. His beloved daughter is ill; he hopes the bile will cure her. Though the work is hard and his boss unstable, Tam is staying with a family that cares for him; the bears aren’t so lucky. This appealing first-person account spotlights a lesser-known issue of animal cruelty but, appropriately for its audience, has a hopeful resolution. There is sufficient Laotian history and culture woven in to provide an authentic, intriguing setting, along with just the right measure of suspense.
A moving and memorable tale of a boy and his bear. (Fiction. 9-13)