A BEAR, A JOURNEY AND FINDING WHO YOU WANT TO BE: THE GIRL WHO SPEAKS BEAR
Last year, when The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson was released, I was astounded! Based on Eastern European folk tales, this book filled my imagination with Baba Yaga and her granddaughter Marinka, who dreamed of a simple, normal life with friendship,schools, ordinary village life and discovering who you really are. Part of my fascination was to do with fairy tales; I love fairy and folk tales and their modern reformulations. I knew little of the old Russian and East European stories, just a bit of the fearsome Yaga. But the chance to hear more! I couldn't resist. Not only did I find inspiration to explore this old world further, but I also discovered a wonderful, magical story that simply made my heart sing.
So with the announcement, earlier this year, of Sophies' second book coming, I could hardly contain myself. (Ask anyone; I don't think I contained myself at all...asking everyone in the book world I knew where I could get my hands on a proof copy...) Finally, my wish was granted, a copy was placed in my grasp and day-to-day life stopped for a while as I submerged myself, once again into a land coloured by snow, folk tales, dragons, bears and a very unusual heroine. I was NOT disappointed. A very special story.
THE GIRL WHO SPEAKS BEAR
author: Sophie Anderson
illustrator: Katherin Honesta
Usborne Books (5 September 2019)
"They call me Yanka the Bear. Not because of where I was found - only a few people know about that. They call me Yanka the Bear because I am so big and strong."
Yanka was found beside a bear cave as a baby...she was found by her foster mother, Mamochka who bundled her home and raised her as her own. She grew into a fine, strong girl. At twelve and a half years, she is stronger than everyone in the village. But not everyone is kind and accepting about Yankas' unusual capabilities. Some stare and point when they think she isn't looking; some whisper and laugh behind her back. Yanka wishes she was as strong on the inside as she is on the outside. She wishes she knew her real parents; who they were, where they came from. Yanka wishes she knew why and how she can understand the voices of the animals and why the bullfinch keeps calling, "Yanka the Bear! Come back to the forest! You belong here!" While recovering from an accident, Yanka makes a shocking discovery and she flees the only home she has ever known. As she runs through the forest, she embarks on a journey beyond any she has ever imagined. She travels away from the village, across the frozen river and into the snowy mountains...beyond...far beyond to the smouldering volcano home of the most dangerous, destructive thing in the forest; the dragon Smey. It is a journey that leads to discovery, of Yankas' story, where she came from, who she is; but most important of all, how to decide who she wants to be.
Oh my! This book is simply wondrous! The writing simply flows across the page. Throughout the novel, we are treated to marvelous stories from Anatoly, the wandering storyteller who visits Yanka and Mamochka, fascinating her and urging her to think deeply. And each tale he tells is a mirror to the events of her life and pulls us along through the book in a way that allows us to lose the walls around us and enter into Yankas' world more fully. There is an element of 'shape-shifting' in the book, which stands as an excellent metaphor for how Yanka (and all of us) must change and adapt to the environment and moment we find ourselves in, all the while leading on to discoveries and to understanding. Wonderful characters abound throughout, and there's even the reappearance of the Yaga House, which delighted me no end. The extraordinary cover and vignette illustrations within the pages are beautiful and evocative, giving us just enough information to paint the scenes fully in the imagination. And there's a map, dear reader!!! (Just in case we get lost in the book and need to find our way home.) All in all, this nuanced, creative story is everything you could want in a book. Compassionate, exciting (nail-biting at times), enchanting and filled with hope, love and belonging. It's one I'll return to again and again.