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Hannah Gold: The Last Bear, The Lost Whale and Finding Bear + interview

Covers Of The Last Bear, The Lost Whale And Finding Bear By Hannah Gold

Hannah Gold, author of the highly acclaimed The Last Bear and The Lost Whale, plus the eagerly awaited Finding Bear, talks to me about her writing. As well as reviewing Hannah Gold’s books, I also ask about her love of nature, her writing and her favourite books.

‘The Last Bear’

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Published by: HarperCollins, 2022. Available from Amazon.

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11-year-old April’s father is a meteorologist. Despite Granny Apple’s protest, he takes April with him on a six-month commission to study the effects of global warming on the Arctic Circle. Their solitary home is to be the weather station on tiny Bear Island, between Norway and the Svalbard archipelago near the North Pole.

‘If you see a polar bear,‘ Granny Apple warns, ‘Run!’

‘But there are no bears left on Bear Island,’ Dad says.

He teaches April a beautiful Norwegian word for the love of outdoor life. Frilutsliv,’ April repeated softly. It was a word that sounded like mermaids, enchanted forests or something ethereal and magic.

And so April is left on her own to roam the island while her father works. On her first wander away from the house, she encounters Bear.

He is huge. And he is wounded. From the very first a deep attachment grows between the lonely child and the last bear on the island. What April knows, deep inside, is that she must rescue Bear and take him to where his family must be, hundreds of miles away. It would break her heart to part with him, but she knows it must be done, somehow.

The relationship between Bear and April

The love April feels for Bear is powerful and unquestioning. She loves her father, but he is lost in his work. Her mother is dead. And Bear, finding he can trust her, returns her love. They are more than friends, more than playmates. Instinctively they understand one another and share one another’s feelings.

Below my review of Moonflight by Gill Lewis, in my passage on how to write animal stories, I talk about the many ways in which animals are and can be portrayed in children’s books, one of which is that animals can talk like humans.

I also mention another, spiritual, magical connection between children and animals, where they understand each other’s thoughts and speech. In particular I refer to Nicola Davies and her magnificent novel The Song that Sings Us.

In The Last Bear, communication between Bear and April is on a different level – not magical, not spiritual, but visceral – animal and human are as one.

My thoughts on ‘The Last Bear’

Suspend your disbelief and become the child whose love for Bear is so fierce that she would risk her life for him. That a dangerous wild animal would respond to a child’s love whole-heartedly, understand her, and communicate without words. Do this, and you’ll read one of the most tender love stories ever written. This is a lovely children’s book, which deservedly won the 2022 Blue Peter award and the Waterstones Children’s Book award.

By an extraodinary coincidence, just after I finished reading The Last Bear I read Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library. There is an episode there which is almost identical to the episode in The Lost Bear where April sees Bear for the first time. Like April, Nora in The Midnight Library is on her own on Bear Island, 250 miles from Svalbard in Norway, when she sees a polar bear. Haig describes Nora’s terror in a way that sets the reader’s heart thumping. Hannah Gold describes April’s awe and disbelief and total empathy in a way that immediately identifies the kind of child she is, and brings out the child in the reader.

‘The Lost Whale’

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Published by: HarperCollins, 2023. Available from Amazon.

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Hannah Gold’s second book is equally and in every sense both a love story and an adventure, taking the reader deep into a world few of us will ever experience. Rio doesn’t know about his love of whales until he is sent to stay with his grandmother in California. He is afraid and worried because his mother is very ill, and he’s scared of his strange grandmother. Then two things happen. His grandmother gives him some drawings that his mother has drawn of a whale called White Beak, and he meets a girl called Marina who knows White Beak. She and her father take tourists on whale-watching boat trips, and invite Rio to join them. 

Thus begins the most exciting and dangerous adventure of Rio’s life as he launches into a quest to save his mother and the whale. His connection with White Beak is so powerful that when she goes off radar all he can think about is finding her and saving her life. He discovers that he is a listener, he can hear what other people can’t hear, and there is a thrilling passage in the book about his particular skill. Rio is listening to the inside of the sea, to the creaking of boats and the sparkle of waves and the animals on the seabed, until finally all that was left was him, the boat and the soul of the earth.’

My thoughts on ‘The Lost Whale’

As in The Last Bear, and in the true nature of children’s fiction, the child protagonist goes to extraordinary lengths to rescue a wounded and stranded wild animal. In a child’s mind, all things are possible, and Hannah Gold writes in an exciting way that sweeps the reader along. Rio and his friend Marina are totally believable children with a desperately important and dangerous mission – to save a whale’s life. This is another excellent and very well researched book.

Hannah Gold provides many links to wildlife causes which you might like to know about or contribute to. Here are the ones specifically related to these two books:

and there are many more links on Hannah’s website.

‘Finding Bear’

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Published by: HarperCollins, September 2023. Available from Amazon.

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Cover of Finding Bear by Hannah Gold

At last the much anticipated sequel to The Last Bear is available (published 28 September 2023). In this immensely readable story April is desperate to find Bear again. She has had a message from Tör (the friend she made on her previous visit to Norway) telling her that Bear has been shot. He has no idea where he is, or whether he is still alive. April can’t rest until her father unwillingly agrees to take her back. He has a new life now, eighteen months after their return, and the last thing he wants is to disrupt it and leave his girlfriend behind. But Maria completely understands that April will never forgive her father if he lets her down.

So once again this brave child, now 12½, sets out on an enormous mission, risking her life in order to find and save a bear. This time she has a new barrier to cross – the fearsome Hedda, ‘with eyes the colour of storms and wolves’. Hedda is firm in her belief that bears and humans must never come close to one another and always carries a gun when she takes tourists on bear-spotting trips.

The reader feels April’s love of the inhospitable landscape, can see it, can feel the grip of extreme cold; even more, can wholly share the love between a wild and dangerous animal and a small human. 

Hannah Gold has done it again.

Hannah Gold on ‘Finding Bear’

I asked Hannah why she wanted to go back to Bear’s story, and how she did her research.

I always felt April and Bear’s story was incomplete, even before I’d got the publishing deal. Then when The Last Bear grew in popularity and I started doing school visits, the question I got asked all the time was whether there would be a sequel, so I pitched to my publisher way back in 2021 and luckily they said yes! But on a more personal note, this is such a passion project for me and I just wanted to go back. I love writing their story – it feels like part of me. So I followed my heart.

In terms of research, this time I went to Svalbard where the majority of the story is set. I wanted to get a feel for this extraordinary place and it was very special to be there in person – although I didn’t see any polar bears! But I did get a true sense of how wild it was – one of the last true frontiers on earth.

Levi Pinfold

The Last Bear, The Lost Whale and Finding Bear are extensively illustrated in dramatic black and drawings by Levi Pinfold. You may know his work from his own book, Black Dog, which won the Cilip Kate Greenaway award in 2013. There is a very interesting interview about his influences and many achievements on the IBBY website (International Board on Books for Young People).

Interview with Hannah Gold

Hannah Gold
Hannah Gold

Berlie: You write about children who have a deep, naked love of wild creatures. Have you experienced this kind of love yourself, or do you think it’s particular to children?

Hannah: I don’t think it’s necessarily particular to children as grown up Hannah loves animals just as much as little Hannah did! But I do think that when you are young that animal love is one of the first big loves a child experiences outside of their immediate family. So for me, there is something very special in experiencing that love of an animal for the first time. I’m fascinated in capturing that magic and deep love on the page. 

Berlie: You’ve recently been appointed an ambassador to the organisation Whale and Dolphin Conservation. This is wonderful! Can you tell us what this means to you, and how it will affect what you write about in future? 

Hannah: Being a wildlife charity ambassador was one of my big author goals because I don’t just write to fulfil my literary ambitions; I write because I honestly do want to make the world a better place and use my voice for change. My books are born out of a deep, unabiding love of animals and a sensitivity I feel to the harm we, as humans, seem to be constantly doing to them. So being made an ambassador is such an honour as it allows to me use my platform (school/festival visits, social media, my newsletter etc) to shout out about how amazing whales are and more importantly, how important they are to the future of the planet and just how they need our help. 

Berlie: Please can you tell us about 10-year-old Hannah?

Hannah: Sensitive, quiet, shy, creative and with a pet cat she absolutely ADORED! I used to wear my cat around my neck as a scarf and my parents’ Christmas tree fairy is still adorned with a white wig made from her fur. I was heartbroken when she died. I remember a story I wrote about losing her which was so raw and honest – my English teacher wanted to put it in the school magazine but I was too embarrassed at revealing myself in such a way. But in hindsight, this experience also gave me one of the greatest gifts – it showed me how to channel my emotions, even the ugly ones, into my writing. Emotions can be overwhelming but what you can do is constructively channel them into something universal which can offer others hope or resonance. 

Berlie: You’ve signed a contract with HarperCollins to write three more book for them. How do you feel about that? And can you give is any clues about the books?

Hannah: I was over the moon to get another contract with HarperCollins and I feel genuinely very settled and happy with them. They seem to get me and get my writing and just do a fantastic job with my books. I’m literally just starting book 4 so it’s still not a fully formed thing but it will feature an animal … or two!

Berlie: Brilliant. And I can’t wait to read it, Hannah. 

And finally – Please recommend about 6 books or authors whom you would love children to read?

Hannah:

  • Michael Morpurgo – is my biggest author inspiration and I often say I want to be like him when I grow up! The Butterfly Lion is probably my favourite of his.
  • Nicola Penfold – all three of her books cover the climate crisis and I think work wonderfully in school settings. 
  • Jasbinder Bilan has a gorgeous writing voice and I love how she incorporates magic realism into her narrative.
  • AM Dassau writes hard-hitting big issue books which never shy away from the truth. I particularly admire her story of Syrian refugee, Sami, in Boy Everywhere – a book which could not be more topical right now. 
  • For those who like comedy in their reading, I highly recommend Jenny Pearson. She writes laugh out loud books and yet they are packed with compassion and nuance.
  • Finally the last book I read and adored was Glitter Boy by Ian Eagleton. I just adored it – I love books with heart and raw emotion and this has bucket-loads of it.
  • And a sneaky seventh just for fantasy fans – the Fireborn trilogy by Aisling Fowler is non-stop action but never at the expense of carefully crafted characterisation.

Over to you

Finding Bear is a sequel to The Last Bear. What other sequel books have you read, and do they always work? For instance, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Please put your comments in the box below.

Berlie Doherty

Berlie Doherty is the author of the best-selling novel, Street Child, and over 60 more books for children, teenagers and adults, and has written many plays for radio, theatre and television. She has been translated into over twenty languages and has won many awards, including the Carnegie medal for both Granny Was a Buffer Girl and Dear Nobody, and the Writers’ Guild Award for both Daughter of the Sea and the theatre version of Dear Nobody. She has three children and seven grandchildren, and lives in the Derbyshire Peak District with Alan James Brown. Her brand new novel for ages 10–14, The Haunted Hills, is out now, as is her novel for adults, Rose Doran Dreams. See the About me page for more information.

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