Although Ida, Always features a polar bear couple, Gus and Ida, it is about death and grieving, not bears. Ida and Gus lived in separate cages in an unnamed zoo in the middle (Central Park) of a large unnamed city (New York). Every morning, their cages were opened and they spent the day together, splashing in the water, playing ball, and listening to the heart-beat of a city they always heard but could never explore.
Ida became ill one day and Gus spent her last days caring for her and pampering her. After she died, the book does a beautiful job of illustrating Gus’s stages of grief. This book would be helpful for a child who is mourning. It is beautifully written, insightful, sensitive, and positive.
On the one hand, this is a wonderful book on the loss of a loved one but on the other hand, it sugar-coats the actual life of this bear.
In the wild, polar bears live 20-30 years. In a zoo, the average is 20.7 years. In the zoo, Gus had two females, Lily, who died at age 17 and Ida who died at age 25. Gus, the actual bear developed obsessive behaviours, even before the deaths of his mates, and had to be given Prozac and a program of stimulation, which lessened but did not cure his depression. He was born in a zoo and sent to Central Park for breeding. He lived for 25 years, from 1988 to 2013. He died two years after Ida. Polar bears in the wild will mate with several females over their lives, If Gus had been a free born bear, he would have been able to choose several mates. He quite likely would not have died without offspring. I don’t think choosing Gus as the lead in this story was the best idea.
Zoo breeding programs are controversial. In light of the immediate and escalating danger polar bears face in the wild, zoo bears may, easily within our lifetime, only exist in zoos. The life of a captive bear is neither as simple nor as rosy as this book shows. This book may help children to develop compassion for polar bears but the full story would even more.
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