Ghostbear, by Paul McDermott
This picture book is really a work of art, from the front cover through to the final endpapers, and is really as much for adults as it is for children. I was completely enchanted by the melancholic darkness of the illustrations, and felt quite a visceral response in relation to some of the darker themes this book touches on - including regeneration, destruction of our planet and wildlife, loss and grief.
We follow the story of a polar bear cub who is lost in the snow and looking for his loved ones; until he finds himself stranded on an ice floe with nowhere to go. He follows what appears to be a ghostly owl into the sky, and as he does so he remembers all the beautiful things in the world that he is leaving behind – but his memory of love burns brightest of all.
I feel that this story can be interpreted in various ways depending on the level of experience, understanding and imagination the reader brings to this book. Mr 4 enjoyed the basic elements of the story and illustrations. He was concerned for the bear when it got stuck on the ice floe. He then wondered what was happening to the bear as he flew into the sky – was he a ghost?
There is a darkness to some of the themes presented here and it can be difficult to explain issues of death, extinction, climate change and destruction of our planet to young kids.
But Ghostbear did provide a valuable opportunity to chat about why we need to protect our planet and animals, so that we don’t lose all the beautiful things in the world.
This story glimmers with a dark and beautiful sadness – but yet it is also carries a message of hope. I love that the story touches on the idea that we are all born of the stars – it is astonishing that elements in our bodies were formed in stars over billions of years. So it is possible to imagine that just maybe we regenerate and somehow live on in other forms – a continuous cycle of birth and rebirth that is somehow beautiful to imagine.
I recommend this one if you like a story that makes you think and wonder and dream. And the dreamlike illustrations are absolutely exquisite.
Published by Omnibus (Scholastic Australia)