Yanka’s tale is joyous, magical and everything that’s wonderful about immersing yourself in a truly exceptional story. It tugged at my heartstrings, made me smile with contentment, tense with excitement, and kept me enveloped in the safest, cosiest bear hug imaginable. The language is exquisite, with a lyrical quality permeating throughout the narrative, which is steeped in Slavic folklore. It is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever had the privilege to read.
But if I don’t know where I came from, how can I be sure where I belong?
Yanka was found outside a bear’s cave as a young child and has been raised by her foster mother, Mamochka. She lives on the edge of The Snow Forest, but as she grows up, she feels more of an affinity for the forest and its creatures, and more of an outsider within her village. She yearns to discover the roots of her past, so much so that she is compelled to leave her home and begin her journey into the forest to find out who she is and where she truly belongs … a journey that leads to danger, breath-taking revelations and deep-rooted friendships.
Yanka is determined to discover her origins and, along the way meets, and forms friendships, full of trust and loyalty, with a fascinating collection of creatures, people and even a rather unusual house! I just must mention Mousetrap, Yanka’s house weasel, who may be diminutive in size, but he is huge in courage with a feisty nature – just adorable!
Yanka is an incredibly brave and kind-hearted young girl, stronger than she believes. She strives for self-awareness and a sense of belonging. At times, she is full of confusion and feels lost, but she never gives up hope that she will find what she needs: a place to belong, a home and the courage to be herself.
It only matters how I see myself.
I absolutely loved how the storyteller, Anatoly’s folktales are interspersed throughout Yanka’s narrative, separate to the chapters, sprinkling delicious clues to her origins. The tales are beautiful in their own right, but resonate even more as they reveal a deeper understanding of Yanka’s heritage. These oral stories within the story really emphasised for me the importance of a nation’s folklore, myths and legends to give readers shared experiences and a connectedness to each other through our shared knowledge of these stories.
Kathrin Honesta’s illustrations are gorgeous, capturing the heart of the story beautifully. I loved following Anatoly’s Map as Yanka adventured through the landscape.
I really cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you want to immerse yourself in an astoundingly delightful world, filled with brave and adventurous characters, safe in the hands of a master storyteller, then you absolutely must read The Girl Who Speaks Bear.
Thank you to Toppsta and Usborne for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I have also ordered extra copies of both of Sophie’s books for our school and class libraries as she will be our Author of the Term.