The Girl Who Speaks Bear- Sophie Anderson

I’m a huge fan of Sophie Anderson’s writing, her debut The House With Chicken Legs is a soul-shifting experience that has cemented Sophie’s lyrical writing as one of my favourites.

So, earlier this year, when Sophie tease-revealed the inspirations, title and setting of The Girl Who Speaks Bear and we were not just returning to Slavic Mythology but exploring the legends of shape shifting especially into bears I was extremely happy.

The handstamped print I received as part of the preorder campaign- An absolute triumph by Stevie at Usborne

The shapeshifting or Otherkin myths are ones that have always inspired my imagination, and books that touch on this to differing degrees such as The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargraves and The Sisters Of The Winter Wood by Rena Rossner are very special. So this book was incredibly exciting for me and it was actually painful seeing blogger after blogger rave about its wonderfulness and it being so far out of reach, and yet having devoured it, certainly it has surpassed all expectations.

This book is everything I wanted and more and the illustrations throughout by Kathrin Honesta add beautiful depth and character to the story.

Book cover for The Girl who speaks bear
Cover by Kathrin Honesta

Yanka is taller and stronger than anyone in her village even though she is only 12 years old. Whilst everyone knows she is a foundling adopted by her Mamochka only a bare handful know that she was found deep in the forest outside a bear cave. Although she lives a happy life outside the village with occasional visits from the storyteller Anatoly she feels like she doesn’t really belong.

When she wakes from a fall to a life changing shock she takes herself on a quest into the woods to find out who she is but in the process she begins a battle for all that matters.

“Yanka!” The bird calls again. “Yanka the Bear! Come back to the forest!”

The themes within the book of belonging being a state of mind is important and about family being made of those who open their hearts not necessarily being of the same family lines is a beautiful one. Not all children live or thrive with their birth families and not all grownups for one reason or another are accepted, fit in or feel like their relatives are their family, this book is so wonderful for how it gently explores how you can make your own family or herd and the whole concept of ‘family’ is mutable.

Another theme is exploring the emotion Yanka feels being trapped between worlds which is really powerful. There is much meaning that could be taken for children of dual heritage here and throughout there is a shift which without spoilers is a beautiful one for anyone but particular those children forging their identity in a similar, though less magical, way.

Once upon a time there was girl named Anya, who felt like a goose among swans in her village. But when she wandered into the forest, Anya swelled with such happiness that she rose onto her toes and danced…

It’s hard to say too much more about this book without massive spoilers and there is a lot of joy in discovering those secrets for yourself BUT I will talk about how wonderful this book is in how it really brings a magic and celebration through the use of oral storytelling of folk tales.

I’ve been reading this aloud with my daughters, and this style of narrative interspersed with short thematically relevant folk tales has been more than a hit, it’s an experience. The bitesize folkish interjections both give relief and colour to the story narrative and their ancient rhythms and themes reach a timeless place within the reader, and speaks truths that even the youngest can understand.

Littlefae is 6 and was swept immediately into the world and wholeheartedly believes the stories it’s such a beautiful innocence and joyful thing to experience. Tinyfae is 3 and is equally enraptured in the tale and has been howling along with the wolves, reacting with gasps at shocking bits and giggling at the comic relief from Mousetrap.

This variation on the ‘Old Man telling Tales’ or nestled stories trope is well established and is not the first book I’ve read this summer using the technique BUT this is one of the most stirring and deeply inspiring uses of the structure I’ve seen and it really makes this book so incredibly powerful and magical.

When I was young I believed all of Anatoly’s tales, whether they were about wolf packs hunting over moonlit snow or fire dragons leaping from volcanoes. Because his stories came from the forest- like me…

Am I bowled over by this book? Absolutely, Anderson has surpassed all expectations which were set incredibly high by The House with Chicken Legs, this, is even more magical because it sings the songs that are wound into our very DNA, the oral storytelling tradition and mythology.

This is a wonderful book with such hope and strength and warmth that appeals across the ages and generations with its roots in a Slavic folklore heritage and it’s reach stretching into the future,- book about love, belonging and the stories that bind themselves into hearts so deeply that we make them real.

The Girl Who Speaks Bear- Sophie Anderson with illustrations by Kathrin Honesta is published by Usborne on 5th September in the UK and by Scholastic (With different illustrator) in March 2020 in the USA.

11 thoughts on “The Girl Who Speaks Bear- Sophie Anderson

  1. Haha – as if we posted our reviews almost simultaneously!
    I’m so glad you loved this too!
    Your review has made me realise that in all my ‘I loved it-ness’ in mine, I forgot to actually say what it’s about 🤦‍♀️ Haha! Oh well!

    Liked by 1 person

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