When I have read Sophie Anderson‘s first book “The House With Chicken Legs” last year ( you can read my review here ), I loved it so much not only did I make sure my daughter read it too, we both played it forward by gifting a copy to as many of her friends as we could. I was so entranced by the story and the beauty of Sophie’s writing, I almost felt like an innocent child again, dreaming of folklore creatures and magical adventures. Suffice to say I was beyond myself when Sophie shared the news that book No.2, titled “The Girl Who Speaks Bear” was in the works.
I was very lucky to have the advance copy before I left for my summer holidays. Feeling very priviledged to have one of the yet unpublished copies, I was also happy because as it was more substantial in length than the first book, I knew I will have plenty of time to read it. My dear reader, I was so excited, I actually started reading it straight away!
Now that the book has been officially published earlier this month and I have a brand new copy, beautifully illustrated by Kathrin Honesta, I can share with you my impressions of the book. While “The House With Chicken Legs” will always have a special place in my heart ( because it allowed me to discover Sophie’s beautifully evocative writing and got me fully immersed into a wonderful story at a time when I truly needed it ) this book is certainly no less special and stands confidently on its own merits.
Yanka, the main character of the book, was found abandoned in a bear cave as a baby. Now on the cusp of becoming a teenager, she stands out from the other children for all the ‘wrong’ reasons, or so it seems to her. She is stronger and taller than everyone else and that makes her feel increasingly self-conscious, even with her loyal friend Sasha by her side. Villagers point at her and girls tease her in the most mean way.
She dreams of her past that doesn’t make sense, she hears strange whispers coming from the Snow Forest but what makes things even worse, is that one day she wakes up to find her legs have become bear’s legs. So instead of talking to her loving Mamochka, she flees her home and goes deep inside the forrest, searching for the answers to the mysteries that can’t seem to untangle.
“I had to walk deep into the forrest before I understood what I was leaving behind. I had to lose what I had before I realised how much I loved it. And I had to look back into my past to see what I want in my future…”
Yanka’s journey of self-discovery is as long, as it is testing. You will learn about the enchanting Lime Tree and the Flying ship, your will be scared by the ferociousness of Smey (based on the hard to pronounce in English Zmey Gorynych, a three-headed fire dragon), Anatoly the hunter, Ivan the grey Wolf, Yuri the young elk, Mousetrap the House Weasel and Blakiston, the fish Owl. Each draw beautifully by Kathrin and described in the way that makes them very human, almost real, by Sophie. The story will feed your curiosity, so be ready to get lost in time, as you read page after page, thirsty to find out what adventure comes next.
You will chuckle and you will cry. But best of all, you will learn valuable lessons that go deep back in time, when life was much simpler, but no less hard to navigate, if you stand out from the crowd for one reason or the other. It is the book steeped in folklore and fairy-tales that is relevant to today’s children (and adults too).
“Because more important than the stories of my past are the stories of my future. And those – with the little help from my family and friends – I can write for myself”
Another thing I want to mention- it concerns the word ‘girl’ in the title. If you have boys, don’t be off put from buying it for them, thinking it’s a book for the girls. Not at all! I actually gave my eldest the right of the first hand after I read the book, ahead of his younger sister. And he drank the book in as quickly as I did, thirsty to discover how the story twists, turns and ends. He loved it and he is picky about his choice of books – so it’s definitely the book that has universal appeal, irrespective of age or gender. After all, we all like to dream and nurture the hope that a good hero always wins in the end, even if the journey is not how it was imagined in the beginning. “The Girl Who Speaks Bear” is my personal children’s book of the year – bravo Sophie, Kathrin and team Usborne, a masterpiece for modern times! Is book No.3 in the works yet?
“The Girl Who Speaks Bear” by Sophie Anderson. Illustrations by Kathrin Honesta, 412 pages, £6.99, published by Usborne. E-book version of the book available as well.