The Last Bear by Hannah Gold – extract and author intro

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold has just been released in NZ, in a beautiful hardback edition, with illustrations by Levi Penfold (the illustrator of the new editions of Harry Potter). The book sounds amazing and I can’t wait to read it. Here is the cover and blurb:

There are no polar bears left on Bear Island. At least, that’s what April’s father tells her when his scientific research takes them to this remote Arctic outpost for six months. But one endless summer night, April meets one. He is starving, lonely and a long way from home. Determined to save him, April begins the most important journey of her life…

Hannah Gold says about her book:

The character of Bear came to me first. I can’t remember when or how, but suddenly he was gazing at me with his dark chocolate eyes and a forlorn, pleading expression on his face. I’ve always found it impossible to ignore animals, particularly ones as magnificent, regal and bighearted as Bear. There was a story he had to tell, and I, apparently, was the one to tell it. When I wrote this book, most of the children’s books about climate change were dystopian. But I believe it’s not too late and that’s why I was keen to tell a story that showed how one girl, even a very little one, could create a huge impact. You don’t need to single-handedly rescue a polar bear like April (I wouldn’t advise that!), but I hope this book encourages every reader to believe that he or she can help. And if, like me, you’ve fallen in love with Bear, then the best way to help polar bears and protect our beautiful planet is to do everything you can to fight climate change. With a loud enough roar, I know we can make a difference.

You can watch a short video of Hannah introducing the book and the book trailer below. You can also read an extract of Chapter One.

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold and illustrated by Levi Penfold is available in NZ now.

Catch Me If I Fall by Barry Jonsberg

I love being surprised by a book. The blurb hints at what the story is about but it’s actually surprisingly different. Barry Jonsberg’s latest book, Catch Me If I Fall is one of these books. What at first seems like just a story about twins and an event that changes their relationship is actually much more complex.

Ashleigh and Aiden are identical twins who have always been there for each other. Aiden is protective of his sister and always looking out for her. They live a privileged life in a huge house in Sydney and attend a prestigious school. They are some of the lucky ones, with plenty of money to keep them fed, comfortable and safe. Australia has been ravaged by storms and rapidly rising seas, a result of catastrophic climate change. The majority of the population has been left homeless and clinging on to survival, while the wealthy live in mansions or compounds, protected by security services. When Ashleigh gets in to trouble while kayaking on a school camp Aiden comes to her rescue but suffers head injuries in the process. After the accident Ashleigh notices changes in Aiden. He starts acting and speaking differently, which worries Ashleigh. Little does Ashleigh know that these changes will lead to a shocking discovery that will turn her world upside down.

I was completely gripped by Catch Me If I Fall. It starts off as one kind of story and morphs into something completely different. There’s a lot packed into the story, from family dynamics to white privilege, climate change to ethics. It’s certainly not your average story about twins. Sure, there are family issues and the story does focus on Ashleigh and Aiden’s relationship, but the story is set against a background of climate change. Barry Jonsberg’s vision of a near-future Australia ravaged by climate change feels scarily possible. It’s certainly not far fetched to imagine the constant storms and rising sea levels that have caused the wide-spread destruction in the story.

My thoughts about the twist turned out to be correct but this didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the story. This just added another layer to the story and made me desperate to know how it would end. Wow, it’s really hard to explain what I like about this story without giving out spoilers!

Ashleigh certainly has a lot to deal with in the story. By the end, her idyllic life has been altered forever. Her family will never be the same and neither will she. She has lived most of her life sheltered from the reality of the world, and the truth of how most people live is shocking to her. I was quite tense following Ashleigh throughout the story and I found myself losing track of time as I had to keep reading to know how it would end. Barry certainly didn’t disappoint.

Catch Me If I Fall would make an amazing read aloud for Years 7-9 or as a novel set for this age group. The story is really engaging and lots of interesting discussion could be had about the issues involved. This book reminded me of how much I loved Barry Jonsberg’s earlier books and I now want to read all of his latest books.