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Bear Island

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Bear Island is a heartfelt picture book about healing after loss by Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell.

Louise and her family are sad over the loss of their beloved dog, Charlie. "Life will not be the same," Louise says, as she visits a little island that Charlie loved.

But on a visit to the island after Charlie's death, something strange happens: She meets a bear. At first, she's afraid, but soon she realizes that the bear is sad, too. As Louise visits more often, she realizes that getting over loss takes time. And just when she starts to feel better, it's time for Bear to bed down for the winter.

Once again, Louise believes that life will not be the same. But sometimes, things can change for the better, and on the first warm day of spring, her family welcomes a new member. Here is a lovely, poignant story about loss and healing that will bring comfort to even the youngest readers.

48 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2021

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About the author

Matthew Cordell

72 books122 followers
Matthew Cordell is the acclaimed author and illustrator of the 2018 Caldecott winner Wolf in the Snow. He is also the author and illustrator of Trouble Gum and the illustrator of If the S in Moose Comes Loose, Toot Toot Zoom!, Mighty Casey, Righty and Lefty, and Toby and the Snowflakes, which was written by his wife. Matthew lives in the suburbs of Chicago with his wife, writer Julie Halpern, and their daughter, Romy.

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5 stars
175 (31%)
4 stars
234 (42%)
3 stars
108 (19%)
2 stars
27 (4%)
1 star
7 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 143 reviews
Profile Image for Ms. B.
2,906 reviews34 followers
December 5, 2021
2022 Caldecott contender? I loved how the illustrations started in black and white before becoming color. The pictures are as much a part of the story as the words in this story about a child, Louise who is overcoming loss .
Even the endpapers and pages before the title page are part of it. Can a bear that Louise meets help her? Is the bear real or imaginary? Readers will have to decide.
Give this one to picture book fans and/or sad stories with hopeful endings.
Profile Image for Amanda.
3,654 reviews30 followers
February 13, 2021
There are so many other books out there that cover the grieving/recovering process much better than this one. I see what he was doing here. I like the use of the sepia pages vs. the slightly more colorful pages.

I understand the use of the bear as a metaphor.

Just no though.
Profile Image for Lorie Barber.
557 reviews36 followers
February 22, 2021
So many people say there are too many “sad” books. What those people don’t understand is that it isn’t the sadness, it’s the *getting through* the sadness that is at the heart of most books that deal with loss and grief. Bear Island, like many other picture books, middle grade and YA novels, does just that, and stunningly. This book is important because millions of kids are dealing with loss: the loss of face-to-face friendship, the loss of what they know, loss of security. And often, now more than ever, loss of people they love. Books that can help kids come through are nothing short of vital.
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,823 reviews284 followers
March 28, 2021
Charlie has died, and Louise and her family are sad because their beloved dog is gone. Louise is sad and angry, too, and each day she rows out to an island where she yells and hits trees, and there she meets a bear. She senses that the bear is full of sadness and anger, too. Somehow the two form a friendship that works to heal them both.

Lovely little story about grief and healing through time and nature and friendship.
Profile Image for Steph.
4,480 reviews48 followers
January 29, 2021
You *need* Matthew Cordell’s new picture book Bear Island.

Why? Because loss-then-hope, compassion-and-understanding, loneliness-then-friendship... these are the most important things. 💛
Profile Image for James Haddell.
Author 2 books3 followers
June 7, 2021
he healing power of nature and time help a young girl overcome the loss of a faithful dog.

Wonderfully rich tale of enduring the anger and sorrow of grief, told through beautiful illustrations and poetic narrative. Lots of inference and discussion potential in this book for all ages.🐾
Profile Image for M. Lauritano.
81 reviews13 followers
February 22, 2021
There are a lot of picture books about grief. A lot that feature a death of a pet or grandparent. It definitely is one of my less favorite children’s book tropes, like the creator is reaching for one of the more impactful experiences of their life, conveying it with a high degree of sentimentality and obviousness, and then expecting the reader to feel the same way they do. When a happy resolution comes too easily, these sorts of books can feel dishonest or unhelpful. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not, but however effective, the grief narrative is well-tread territory. So how does Bear Island stand out from the pack?

Cordell tells the story of a child that loses her dog. The place that she goes to grapple with that is wild, little island visible from the family’s lakeside home. There, she comes into contact with a large bear. First they roar at each other, a moment of mutual recognition. Then they share each other’s company, taking their grief in turns. Life starts to get a bit less painful. Finally, the bear is bid farewell as it begins to hibernate for the winter. Immediately after that, our protagonist gets a new puppy. Flash-forward to spring and when the child goes looking for the bear, it is gone. Did it leave? Was it ever there? Was the bear merely a metaphor, an externalized part of our child all along? That is left for the reader to decide.

An island-bound bear might not be a perfect symbol of grief, judging by my own experiences and sensibilities, but it is a really interesting choice. Bears are big and hungry and can be terrifying. But they also look so fuzzy and warm and bear-huggable. This dichotomy encompasses much of the variety that is part of how we all feel in the wake of loss. From uncharacteristic short-tempered outbursts, to loping, heavy, sleepy depressive episodes, to the soon familiar presence of a weightiness—it is bear-like, from a certain point of view. Even the word ‘bear’ is not just a noun but a verb, the act we must do in hard times.

Another aspect of the book that left an impression on me was the structure. This is one of the few picture books I can think of with so clearly demarcated with both a prologue and epilogue. The story beginning in earnest before the title page drops is something I have noticed popping up a bit more frequently, and definitely a creative choice that pays off. But this book also seemed to have a natural end, when the child says goodbye to the bear and then returns home to a new dog. Only to open things up again when we return to the island, sometime later. One could argue these are act breaks, but they do not quite feel that way to me. And when dealing with a subject in which the passage of time is so important, it feels like this was an interesting way to tackle it.

There is one aspect of the book I do not find intriguing. The color palette change as our character begins to move forward from her loss, communicates the situation well enough, but that black and white (sepia in this instance) to color choice is getting a little cliche these days. Not for children, most likely, but for this crusty children’s book aficionado. It might be nice to see a reversal of this someday, bright colors for the moments in life when we feel negative emotions too?

Ultimately, Bear Island lacks the quiet simplicity that makes Wolf in the Snow so great and feel like such a classic. But it also is not completely worse off for maybe having a little more to chew on.
Profile Image for Pam.
641 reviews
May 7, 2021
This is a tender story about how a little girl handles her grief and anger over her beloved dog dying. She encounters a bear on an island where she goes to be alone. She is frightened at first (indeed, the bear is pretty scary), but then she realizes the bear seems sad and lonely, too, and as she works through their shared emotions, she heals from her loss. The pictures are delightful—just right for this sweet story.
Profile Image for Mary.
2,606 reviews11 followers
February 27, 2021
Louise is grieving the loss of her beloved dog, Charlie, when she meets a bear who is also grieving. An evocative picture book that will have the reader teary eyed at the first page and smiling at the last. A timeless story of grief and healing.
Profile Image for Katie Reilley.
780 reviews26 followers
June 9, 2021
A beautifully told story about loss, coping and grief, hope and healing, new beginnings, and finding comfort. Eager to share with my 4th/5th grade student readers and see the connections they make to their own lives.
Profile Image for Tracy.
350 reviews
February 10, 2021
This is a really gentle kids book about loss. It’s about taking steps and healing and enjoying life again while dealing with grief.

Profile Image for Holly Mueller.
2,184 reviews
March 7, 2021
So, so beautiful! Matthew Cordell has become one of my favorite writers and illustrators in children's literature. Add to a text set with The Rough Patch by Brian Lies, City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems, and Stone for Sasha by Aaron Becker .
Profile Image for Margaret.
2,532 reviews
February 15, 2021
For forty-seven years and counting, it has been a privilege to work within and enjoy a world centered in children's literature. Book by book my already considerable respect for authors and illustrators has grown every year. With each new title I hold in my hands and read, it still grows.

One of the greatest joys of being a teacher librarian, other than sharing books with all readers, is the honor of watching an author, illustrator, or author illustrator begin and master their art. Underlying every word they write and every element in the images they make is a passion for bringing their absolute best to children, readers, of all ages. In 2021 one of these creators has released two books within a week of each other. To me, these titles demonstrate this individual's skill. Bear Island (Feiwel And Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, January 26, 2021) written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell addresses the life-changing event of great loss.

My full recommendation: https://librariansquest.blogspot.com/...
Profile Image for Jennifer.
2,253 reviews
September 27, 2021
II’m not crying, you’re crying. A beautiful picture book about death and loss and working through the grieving process. Told in a metaphorical style with illustrations that match the tone.
1,242 reviews
March 25, 2021
A good fit for kids grieving a lost dog, but cavorting with a bear to heal, emotionally? I think I'm too literal for this one. (Also, didn't appreciate the appearance of the puppy at the end. I know time had passed, but that's not an ideal solution to offer kids.)
Profile Image for Alissa Tsaparikos.
365 reviews2 followers
March 10, 2021
This is a story about the exploration of getting over grief. A child explores an island and finds a friend in a sad bear. It is left up to the reader whether the bear is real, and it is never explained what the bear is sad about. An odd one for sure.
Profile Image for Rachael Marsceau.
487 reviews51 followers
February 15, 2021
Let's stop writing children's books that are secretly for adults, m'kay? Both sides end up not liking it.
Profile Image for Stephanie Bange.
1,588 reviews13 followers
April 21, 2021
Another winner from Matthew Cordell!

Louise is still grieving the loss of her dog, Charley. Her constant companion, they did everything together. When summer came and it is time to enjoy the outdoors, Louise takes her small boat over to the nearby island - just as she used to do with Charley. Now, it appears empty...until she whacks a tree with a stick. She rouses its inhabitants, including butterflies, a chipmunk, deer, and... a great big bear. She notices a loneliness about the bear, so they become companions as she makes her daily trips to the island. Nearing the end of the season, it is time for the bear to head off to hibernate, and for her to finish her grieving for Charlie. After one last trip to the island for the season, she notices that the bear is gone...but she has sweet consolation waiting at home.

Once again, Matthew Cordell lovingly shares his observations about nature and humanity in a charming picture book. His sketchy artwork is filled with the life and detail that might be found on a small isolated island and the emotions that might be found in a young child grieving the loss of a beloved pet. He is spot on from beginning to end.

His artwork, created in pen and ink with watercolor and "sometimes" gouache are light and summery - just perfect for this tale. The pale/faded blues, browns, and greens of summer make way for the bolder colors of autumn and the starkness of winter. This is one to read again and again to soak in the lovely text and illustrations.

While this can be read anytime, it would be useful in units of kindness, friendships, and loss/healing.

Highly Recommended for PreSchool - grade 2.

31 reviews
Read
March 22, 2021
Bear Island by Matthew Cordell; review by Dean Schneider
Grade level: Preschool, Primary
As in his Caldecott Medal–winning Wolf in the Snow (rev. 11/16), Cordellbegins his story before the title page, aseries of wordless images telling of lossand sadness—a framed picture of a dog,a family portrait, objects being packedaway—ending with, “Goodbye, Charlie.”The title page, with its colorful butterfly on a rock against a watery-blue backdrop, foreshadows the story’s theme of transformation. The narrative continues with simple words: “On a lake, there was a house…on that lake, there was an island,” to which protagonist Louise rows, alone. A brown palette mirrors the girl’s sadness, but when butterflies appear on the island, and then a chipmunk and deer, the palette subtly lightens:
“Something new and good was happening on the island.” Then “ROOAARR,”
a bear appears. It scares Louise, until she recognizes in the creature “a familiar feeling. A familiar sadness.” A circle encloses Louise and the bear and focuses on their shared emotions, then panels continue the narrative, portraying the growing friendship between the two. The youngest of listeners will likely accept a bear’s presence on the island, but older readers may, like Louise, eventually wonder if the bear had ever really been there. Life comes full circle for our protagonist, literally, as the final illustration is Cordell’s signature circle again enclosing Louise—with a smile; the island in the background now green; and Milly, her new dog. [See the similarly themed The Boy and the Gorilla, reviewed on page 61.]
35 reviews
Read
March 31, 2021
As in his Caldecott Medal–winning Wolf in the Snow (rev. 11/16), Cordell begins his story before the title page, a series of wordless images telling of loss and sadness — a framed picture of a dog, a family portrait, objects being packed away — ending with, “Goodbye, Charlie.” The title page, with its colorful butterfly on a rock against a watery-blue backdrop, foreshadows the story’s theme of transformation. The narrative continues with simple words: “On a lake, there was a house…on that lake, there was an island,” to which protagonist Louise rows, alone. A brown palette mirrors the girl’s sadness, but when butterflies appear on the island, and then a chipmunk and deer, the palette subtly lightens: “Something new and good was happening on the island.” Then “ROOAARR,” a bear appears. It scares Louise, until she recognizes in the creature “a familiar feeling. A familiar sadness.” A circle encloses Louise and the bear and focuses on their shared emotions, then panels continue the narrative, portraying the growing friendship between the two. The youngest of ­listeners will likely accept a bear’s presence on the island, but older readers may, like Louise, eventually wonder if the bear had ever really been there. Life comes full circle for our protagonist, literally, as the final illustration is Cordell’s signature circle again enclosing Louise — with a smile; the island in the background now green; and Milly, her new dog.
Lexile Level: Beginning Reader
Grade Level: Preschool
Profile Image for Melanie H..
3,805 reviews39 followers
December 3, 2021
This story opens with a young child, Louise, and her family grieving the death of Charlie, the family dog. The family lives on a lake with an island in the middle. Louise rows out to the island one day while thinking of time spent in the boat and on the island with Charlie. After picking up a stick and hitting a tree a kaleidoscope of butterflies startles out of stillness. This causes a chain reaction of other animals investigating the commotion. Louise encounters a chipmunk, a deer and then suddenly... a BEAR.

The bear lets out a roar that causes Louise to stagger back. Instead of becoming scared, Louise gets angry and roars back. The bear sinks to the ground as Louise prepares to leave. But when she looks back she sees the sadness on the bears face and decides to stay. She visits the island every day after this encounter. The bear and Louise share their grief and, throughout the next few pages, help each other heal.

Then one day Louise arrives at the island to find bear preparing to hibernate. She is devastated and doesn't want him to go. But he has to. Louise heads back home, struggling to understand why we sometimes have to say goodbye to the things we love.

A heartfelt story about processing grief. A bit esoteric for littles, but older kids might enjoy the message. Another positive aspect of this story is that Louise is illustrated as an androgynous character. She doesn't have long hair or wear "feminine" clothing.
23 reviews
April 28, 2022
I love this book as it addresses a hard topic, has great details, and the illustrations are incredible. The book follows a girl named Louise. Louise and her family have a dog named Charlie. Charlie unfortunately passes away and this leaves Louise crushed. She thinks that life will not be the same without Charlie. Louise and her family end up visiting an island that she loved going to with Charlie. At this island Louise encounters a bear that is also sad. She relates to the bear and continues to visit the island and starts to realize that loss takes time to overcome. Once Louise starts to feel better the bear must leave for hibernation. Again, Louise is crushed when the bear has to leave her. Over time, she starts to realize that change can be for the better and starts to feel better.
I love this book and think that it could have gotten the Caldecott medal because it hits on a couple different areas. It touches on a difficult subject (grief and death), has beautiful details, along with beautiful illustrations. The illustrations are so detailed and look so real. The cover makes the bear look like it is jumping off of the page.
I would use this in my classroom for a read aloud for 2-4 grades. I think that the book can show a difficult subject in an appropriate way. I may even privately meet with a student that I know is dealing with grief and let them take the book home.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Mandy.
1,415 reviews12 followers
February 25, 2021
Picture book. At the beginning (before even the title page) Louise loses her dog Charlie. As she mourns, she rows off to a wild island not far from her house. She meets a bear, and at first she is scared but then decides to roar back. And surprisingly they become friends, regularly hanging out through the fall as she visits the island. She is clearly finding some comfort in this, but then it's time for the bear to hibernate for the winter, bringing the sense of loneliness back. When she visits the island with her new puppy, she wonders if the bear was ever really there.

I do like the message about recovering from grief in this book, and the illustrations are remarkable. There is so much detail, even in the scenes that are almost monotone to reflect Louise's grief. What I did not appreciate about the book was the ambiguous ending-- did Louise imagine the bear? Was the bear still hibernating? Did something happen to him too? Some readers will appreciate the open ending, but personally I did not.
Profile Image for Linda .
3,703 reviews42 followers
March 9, 2021
Matthew Cordell's story shows a path through the experience of loss in this story. Young Louise and her family mourn the loss of their beloved dog, Charlie. They are in a remote cabin on a lake that has an island in it which Charlie loved. Louise takes a rowboat to it through the seasons, hanging out, showing anger by whacking a tree, being astounded by a flock of butterflies that appear. Then there is the bear. You will need to read the story and see Cordell's illustrations that move from sepia tones to color as the girl and perhaps the bear, experience grief in its many ups and downs. The showing of a bear's facial emotions amazes me, and Matthew Cordell seems to understand just how a bear would look in wide-ranges of emotions as he does with those of a young girl. There is one double-page spread of Louise and the bear looking at each other. It brought tears. How might we help children understand the many emotions of grief? Books like this will help bring thoughts and conversation.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 143 reviews

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