The Girl Who Speaks Bear, by Sophie Anderson

The Girl Who Speaks Bear, by Sophie Anderson (Scholastic, March 3 2020, 2019 in the UK), is a lovey fairytale-full story of a girl trying to figure out who she is, and how she fits into the world.  There's lots of emphasis on the power of stories, found family, and a bonus dragon!

When Yanka was little, a wise, kind woman found her playing in the snow outside a bear's den, and brought her back to her village, raising her as her own child.  Now Yanka is 12, she's forgotten her wild life out in the woods, though she still wonders who her real parents were. She's not sure of her place in the village; she's much bigger and stronger than the other kids, and though she has one good friend, a boy called Sasha, she feels different inside as well.  And then one day, when she wakes to find her human legs have turned to bear legs, she knows she must listen to the call of the forest she's heard for years, and head out into the winter woods to find out just who she is.

She doesn't go alone.  The (utterly loveable) house weasel, Mousetrap (one of those loyal and fierce small sidekicks that middle grade fantasy does so well), goes with her, and to her wonder she can understand him.  Her journey is guided by the maps drawn by the storyteller who visits her and her mother every so often, and by the stories he's told over the years, of people transformed into bears, of flying ships, of a magical tree, and of a fiery dragon.

As she travels, she gathers other friends, an elk, an owl, and a wolf, and (in a great treat for those of us who enjoyed Anderson's earlier book, The House with Chicken Legs) two "yagas" in their magical house.  The younger yaga is a girl about her own age, who quickly offers Yanka her freindship.  The chicken-legged house takes a liking to her too, and makes Yanka's travels much easier.

The stories threaded through Yanka's journey all hold some bit of truth, no matter how fantastic they seem, and lead her to the root of her of her own story, explaining why she is both bear and girl.  These stories also lead to a quest--in order to save a magical tree, she must defeat a dragon.  Fortunately she doesn't have to do it alone; all of her companions met on the way are there to help her, all with a part to play, all aware they are stronger together.  And in the end, she's home again, much more comfortable in her own skin, still a girl who speaks bear, but a girl  knows she's loved and valued

Give this one to any reader who loves fairly tales!  I'm not generally a huge fan of stories inserted into the central narrative, but it works here, giving readers (and Yanka) information important to the central journey.  Readers who loved Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (which does the same thing with nested stories) will probably love this one too.

I enjoyed it lots; it makes lovely pictures in the mind, and the characters are great fun (although the owl is not developed as a character at all, which I felt was a loss....). Though few of us have bear legs, anyone who is, or has been, or is about to be 12 will recognize and empathize with Yanka's feelings.   The emphasis on found family is very comforting!

My own favorite bits were the house weasel, and the yaga house, which is a young and impulsive house, and a lovely character in its own right, worthy of Diana Wynne Jones.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


  1. I have The House with Chicken legs on my TBR. Of the two, which would you recommend reading first?

    1. sorry, just found this in my spam commnets… Both stand alone just fine, but you'll appreciate Bear a bit more if you read Chicken Legs first!


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