The Bear Makers

The Bear Makers

Andrea Cheng

Kata doesn’t understand why her brother hasn’t come home.

Set in 1948 in Budapest, where the secret police force is questioning everyone’s loyalty and conditions seem to be worsening.

Eleven-year-old Kata doesn’t understand why her brother Bela is acting so strange lately or why he hasn’t come home from his recent excursion. Her father is depressed and barely able to function.. He used to be the owner of a factory, but now he is an employee whose wages continue to be cut. He refuses to become a member of the Hungarian Workers Party, which causes him no end of trouble. Along with her friend and neighbor, Eva, Kata joins the Young Pioneers, a communist youth group. She’s often torn between doing the right thing for her country and helping her family. But she diligently helps her mother sew the bears and handbags that they will sell on the black market to help ends meet. Eventually she learns that Bela has escaped to Vienna, Austria, just in time, as conditions at the border are growing increasingly dangerous. At first, Kata is angry and sad. She blames her brother for abandoning the family, but eventually she becomes hopeful that someday he will make it to America and send for her and her parents. With the help of her father, she begins studying so she will be ready when the time comes.

Bear Makers is the story of one family trying to survive in post-war Hungary. When their family first returned from hiding after the war, they were glad to be alive, glad to return to their homes, and hopeful that life would improve. But the secret police force, known as the AVO, is questioning even ordinary citizens about their loyalty to the Hungarian Workers Party. And conditions in Budapest seem to be worsening.

  • Ages: 11 - 14
  • Grades: 6 - 9
  • Pages: 176

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Recent Reviews

Many stories about World War II experiences are personalized via handed-down accounts from relatives, and Cheng's novel, set in postwar Budapest, is no exception, as her grandmother was the original bear maker. Eleven-year-old Kata recounts her Jewish family's struggle to survive without openly rebelling against the regimentation of the Hungarian Workers Party. Her older brother manages to escape to America; her father sinks into depression when the state takes over his factory; her mother anxiously sews teddy bears and handbags to sell on the black market. Threaded through the narrative are short wartime flashbacks to when Kata and brother Bela were harbored by their aunt on her farm. As the pacing and emotional tension slowly build to an unresolved ending, the reader is left to decide if Bela can rescue his family or if they'll be forced to relinquish all individual rights for the sake of the Party. Bold chapter numbers are backed with strips of bear pattern-pieces with handwritten directions, a subtle motif that resembles the pieces of a crumbling family."

—Kirkus Reviews

Cheng has crafted a cast of characters and palpable setting that are vivid and compelling, and she offers a glimpse into history that many children will find easy to relate to and powerfully affecting.


A thoroughly convincing recollection of a vanished world.

—School Library Journal

Kata can tell no one, not even her best friend Eva, that she is Jewish. This historical novel is about a family struggling to cope with their experiences during World War II and dealing with their present circumstances after coming out of hiding. Life for young Kata needs to be guarded as "the walls have ears." Through all of the struggles, Kata and her family find comfort in the naming of her newly created stuffed bears that are eventually sold to supplement the family's income. The abrupt conclusion leaves the reader vulnerable when speculating on her family's situation and future plans. The author does a fine job in balancing fact with fiction and draws upon the reader's imagination on how it must have felt to be a Jewish child living in adversity during and after the war. As a daughter of Hungarian Jewish immigrants, the author bases her writings on family stories told by her grandmother. This novel would be a fine choice for students to read when they are learning about the Holocaust. Recommended.

—Library Media Connection

Honors for The Bear Makers

  • Kansas State Reading Circle
  • Smithsonian Notable Book for Children
  • Best Children's Books of the Year, Bank Street College of Education
  • 08-09 Top 40 Fiction PSLA