Ida, Always

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Ida, Always Book Poster Image
Heartrending, hopeful story of farewell to dying friend.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Can help prepare children for an expected loss or better grasp what it feels like to lose someone by validating a wide range of emotional responses that can change moment to moment, demonstrating ways to help and offer comfort in difficult times, and showing that sadness lingers but happy memories can bring joy.

Positive Messages

Loss is very difficult to experience and can be confusing. You may feel lots of emotions, and they're all OK. Showing affection and helping someone experiencing difficulty can benefit you both. Loved ones who aren't physically with us can still feel present through cherished memories.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ida and Gus are constant companions and attentive friends. Gus helps tend to Ida as her condition worsens and comforts her as she dies. Keeper Sonya is forthcoming about what's happening, giving the bears the opportunity to focus on their relationship and prepare for what's to come. After Ida's death, she spends special time with Gus. Zoo visitors write notes to Ida, and the city grieves after her death.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ida, Always, by Caron Levis, is a sensitive guide for helping children better understand grief, and the book is certain to lead to questions and conversation about loss. It's a nuanced, moving story anyone can appreciate, but it can be especially helpful for families anticipating a significant loss or for helping kids through grief. There's no explicit mention of an afterlife, but the bears wonder where Ida will go after she dies. It's made clear that Ida isn't in pain, and she dies peacefully with Gus by her side. The story is inspired by the death of a polar bear at New York's Central Park Zoo.

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What's the story?

Polar bears Ida and Gus spend their days playing together in their zoo. One day, Ida doesn't come out of her cave. The keeper explains to Gus that Ida is sick and isn't going to get better -- soon, her body will stop working and she'll die. Gus reacts with an outburst, growling, "Don't go, don't go, DON'T!" But then he calms and focuses on his friend. Gus stays close to Ida, who has good days and bad. Sometimes the two are able to laugh, sometimes they're angry and scared, and sometimes they each need time alone. Gus is with her when she dies. Afterward, he sometimes forgets Ida is gone. But when he hears the sounds of the city, he remembers Ida describing them as the city's heartbeat, and he feels Ida is with him -- always.

Is it any good?

Dealing with death is never easy, but this sensitive picture book equips young children with tools to talk about and understand grief and eventually find their own paths to a place of comfort. IDA, ALWAYS gently but insistently confronts the messy reality of grief. "There were growling days and laughing days and days that mixed them up," Carol Levis writes. Lovely impressionistic artwork by Charles Santoso may leave you with a lump in your throat. In one gorgeous spread, the sad polar bears cuddle in a shadowed cave, oblivious to the glowing city outside. In another, Gus lifts his head to the sun, eyes closed, while a cloud resembling a playful Ida floats above.

This may be a difficult read for sensitive children -- it may not be the best choice for bedtime reading. Be sure to plan time after reading for questions, conversations, and plenty of snuggles.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Gus and Ida behave after they realize she's dying and name the different emotions. Do any of them surprise you?

  • Do certain sounds, sights, or smells remind you of someone you miss?

  • What comforts you when you feel sad or upset?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love picture books and grief stories

Themes & Topics

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