A fictional story inspired by two real-life polar bears who once lived together at the Central Park Zoo in New York City, “Ida, Always” by Caron Levis and illustrated by Charles Santoso is a profoundly touching and beautiful book about friendship, love, loss, grief, and – ultimately – life. The two polar bears, Gus and Ida, live in the same enclosure at the zoo and spend every day together playing, splashing in the water, and flopping on the rocks to listen the “heartbeat” of the city. Every day is the same, until one day Gus is informed that Ida is dying.
Ms. Levis’ prose is poetic in its simplicity as she manages to approach the complicated feelings leading up to and following the death of a loved one in a deeply moving way, without a single wasted word. The nature of her writing was such that the power of the story she was telling snuck up on me; it built quietly through the course of the book and then washed over me suddenly as I turned the last page, at which point I choked up and had a hard time reading the last sentence aloud. I don’t know that everyone will have the same reaction I did, but when I looked around our room at the end I was not the only one with tears in my eyes.
Mr. Santoso’s illustrations add to the beauty and appeal of the story and do so much to help convey the feelings of the characters. He fills many pages with lush and occasionally gauzy panoramic views of broad skies, towering city skylines, and the polar bears’ verdant habitat. These images are punctuated with more intimate portraits of the bears snuggling, or of Gus struggling with his grief. Birds, flying overhead or sitting quietly near the two polar bears, are also a common element. He manages to convey very human emotions through Gus and Ida’s expressions, and embodies their thoughts and conversations with images in the clouds overhead.
This is an amazing book. Only recently released (February 23), “Ida, Always” is already an all-time favorite in our home. Everyone should have a copy on the shelf. A word of caution, however: do not begin reading without a box of tissues handy.
Update: I failed to mention that February 27th was International Polar Bear Day! An especially fun aspect of A Storybook Year so far has been all the national and international “holidays” and other dedicated days that we have discovered. Any additional excuse to celebrate is welcome!