A Bear Far From Home” by Susan Fletcher; illustrated by Rebecca Green

Review by John Mullarkey, youth services library assistant at the Hillsborough Library

One of my favorite picture books of 2022. A unique and thoughtful story set during the reign of King Henry III of England 700 years ago about a “gifted” polar bear cub that is taken to the king’s menagerie in the Tower of London. The history is unclear, so author Susan Fletcher’s diligent research fills in as many details as possible. Immediately, we understand the sad plight of the alienated bear taken away from its mother and out of its natural environment, brought to live far away in a foreign land trapped and lonely in a cage. Many readers will recall the story of Ivan the gorilla in a similar story. Without giving too much away, the bear’s situation is not entirely solved, but made better by the empathy and thoughtfulness of King Henry. 

The artwork by Rebecca Green recalls the setting and historical time with detailed borders and colors that could be from stained glass or illuminated pages from the Middle Ages. This is a great read aloud in many ways; it raises questions about being new and alone in a far away land and the difficulties of adapting to new surroundings; it also offers a glimpse into life along ago in England during the Middle Ages — imagine walking along the river Thames and seeing a polar bear happily splashing along in the water? – oops, I gave away part of the ending!