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Monday, April 24, 2017

ida, ALWAYS. Written by Caron Levis and illustrated by Charles Santoso. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon and Schuster. 2016. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"Then the two friends flopped onto their favorite rock while the city pulsed around them. "I wish we could see it," Gus sighed. "You don't have to see it to feel it," said Ida. "Listen." They heard buses groan; police whistle; taxis honk; pigeons coo; ... "

In the gentle story of loss and the grief that follows, we meet Ida and Gus. They are two polar bears making a life in a city zoo. Gus is constantly attentive to Ida, loving being with her and sharing happy times and adventures.

"When the sky grew dark, Gus and Ida waved good night and crawled off to their caves. With the subways humming underground, they added their snores to the sounds of their city. Every day was always the same."

Until it wasn't ...

While they love being together, life changes for them. Ida doesn't always have good, happy days. She is tired, and cannot enjoy swimming as she used to do. She sleeps for lengthy periods of time and even coughs often. One day, Ida didn't come out of her cave.

"Keeper Sonya came instead.
Sonya told Gus that Ida was very sick.
Usually, there's a way to make a sick bear better,
but this time was different.
Ida wouldn't hurt, but she would get tired
and too weak to swim and play."

Caron Levis does not shy away from death, wanting her audience to know that it is a part of life. She even allows the two bears a growling, heartbreaking rant for what is going to happen. When it stops, the 'fold' into each other and enjoy the rest of their days together, wondering and guessing and imagining what is to come. As Ida's health declines, Gus is a constant companion. Gus is there when Ida breathes her final breath, and he is heartbroken. That is as it should be. But, he always remembers Ida and knows she is still 'there'.

"He steps into the spot
where Ida liked to soak in the sun.
He listens to their city pulsing around him.
He remembers that Ida said
you don't have to see it to feel it."

Filled with beauty and emotion, this is a story that will resonate with every child and adult who shares it. The digitally rendered artwork is so effective in its moody colors. There is sadness in the love lost,  and joy in the remembering. Their world is most often filled with blue skies, that change dramatically with Ida's death, and return to wonder with acceptance.

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