The Great Bear – a powerful story on individual freedom, respect and the myth of Ursa Major

Libby Gleeson, Armin Greder, The Great Bear

Published 2010 by Walker Books (first published 1999 by Scholastic Australia), 40p

Vincent van Gogh – Starry Night Over the Rhone, Musee d’Orsay


Based upon a dream Libby Gleeson had in 1995, The Great Bear is an intense story about an abused bear in a medieval circus somewhere in Europe, that has the courage to escape captivity.

A dancing circus bear…

To the music of trumpets, drums and cymbals she danced. She lifted her feet and swayed to the sound and some of the crowd clapped and cheered. Others poked her with sticks and threw stones at her ragged coat.

dance, bear

Armin Greder’s illustrations are amazing again. In the first half of the book, there is only the silhouette of a weak, oppressed bear while the second part presents a confident, fully coloured animal that has finally become free. Because he wanted deep meaning beyond words, Greder insisted on not having written text on the second part of the book, which brings a more profound symbolism of the story.

As the author said in an article appeared in Practically Primary, she wanted her readers to empathize with the bear to fully understand the oppression:

I wanted the reader to feel the bear’s anguish and to understand the desire to break free. I wanted drama and poetry. I wanted the levels of psychological and mythological insight to be available to very young readers.

The bear has a magical escape. Like in Van Gogh’s Starry Night over the Rhône, she climbs a pole and reaches the sky, becoming Ursa Major, the famous constellation (also known as the Great Bear), the symbol of the North.

the bear on the pole

More than an escape from persecution, cruelty and injustice, the bear’s action salutes everybody’s right to choice and individual freedom.

Complement The Great Bear with two other impressive stories by Armin Greder – The City, an expressionist story on mother-son love and The Island, a powerful message on human rights.


Cover illustration © 2010 Armin Greder
From THE GREAT BEAR by Libby Gleeson & illustrated by Armin Greder
Reproduced by permission of Walker Books Ltd, London SE11 5HJ

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