Review: Moon Bear by Gill Lewis

MOON BEAR by Gill Lewis

I’ve been a little bit snowed under with the new job for OUP and with interviews lately and so WellReadPanda has not received the glory and full attention which it so deserves. I’ll rectify this by positively MOONING over how much I loved Moon Bear by Gill Lewis.

moon-bearPublished this month by the venerable OUP, Moon Bear is the story of twelve year old Tam, who suffers from the cruel oversight of a totalitarian state and personal tragedy is forced to journey away from his family’s home in the forest mountains of Laos and earn his keep working at a bear farm in the inner city. Tam’s new home is dirty and complicated – a modern nightmare of human and animal cruelty – until the arrival of a newborn bear brings memories of the forest and hope.

The genius of Lewis’ writing lies in the author’s ability to break down the barrier between boy and bear: the more the reader learns of Tam;s experience, the more we are able to empathise, love and respect the animals at the farm. Though the bears don’t speak, Tam gives them a voice.

The sick, newborn cub is christened ‘Sôok-díi’, meaning ‘Great Luck’, and as Tam cured the little bear, I was cured of any whimsical preconceived notion of what bear farming may entail.

‘AnimalsAsia’, a charity dedicated to educating the public and relieving culturally ingrained cruelty to animals describes ‘Bear Bile Farming’ as follows:

More than 10,000 bears – mainly moon bears, but also sun bears and brown bears – are kept on bile farms in China, and around 2,400 in Vietnam. The bears are milked regularly for their bile, which is used in traditional medicine.Bile is extracted using various painful, invasive techniques, all of which cause massive infection in the bears. This cruel practice continues despite the availability of a large number of effective and affordable herbal and synthetic alternatives.Most farmed bears are kept in tiny cages. In China, the cages are sometimes so small that the bears are unable to turn around or stand on all fours. Some bears are put into cages as cubs and never released. Bears may be kept caged like this for up to 30 years. Most farmed bears are starved, dehydrated and suffer from multiple diseases and malignant tumurs that ultimately kill them.


Lewis is able to inform her readers (young or old) of these practices in a way which is complex, level-headed and emotional. Somehow not traumatising nor patronising her reader for a second, bear farming is 

presented as a cruelty, but one which is based on traditional medicinal needs- which people heavily rely upon. Those who rely upon it are misguided but rarely cruel. Moon Bear carries you through the beautiful and dark images, the emotion and the logic behind cruelty to animals and to humans alike.

Proof that writing for children can be current, important and challenging as well as lyrical, this is a beautiful book filled with hope and story and information and bears.

moon bear

More information on Bear Bile Farming can be found at

Gill Lewis adopted a bear called Prince, and I made a small donation. I couldn’t not after reading her book. I suggest you check this wonderful website out

ps. Call me biased, but Oxford University Press has created one of the most beautiful covers I’ve seen in a long time