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The Girl Who Speaks Bear

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Found abandoned in a bear cave as a baby, 12-year-old Yanka has always felt out of place in her small village. When she wakes up to find that her legs have become bear legs, she sets off into the forest to discover who she is, on a journey that takes her from icy rivers to smouldering mountains, with an ever-growing group of misfits alongside her... Interwoven with traditional stories of bears, princesses and dragons, Yanka's journey is a gorgeously lyrical adventure from the best-selling author of The House With Chicken Legs.

416 pages, Paperback

First published September 5, 2019

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About the author

Sophie Anderson

6 books758 followers
Sophie Anderson was born in Swansea, and now lives in the Lake District with her family. Her writing is most often inspired by folk and fairy stories, especially the Slavic tales her Prussian grandmother told her when she was young.

Across her bestselling novels, Sophie has won the Independent Bookshop Book of the Year Award and the Wales Book of the Year Award, and been shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal twice, the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the Blue Peter Book Award, the British Book Awards’ Children’s Fiction Book of the Year, the Andersen Prize, and the Branford Boase Award.

Sophie’s books have been translated into over twenty languages, and The House with Chicken Legs is being adapted for stage by Les Enfants Terribles.

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5 stars
1,824 (44%)
4 stars
1,550 (37%)
3 stars
613 (14%)
2 stars
94 (2%)
1 star
38 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 691 reviews
Profile Image for Gavin Hetherington.
673 reviews5,464 followers
January 20, 2020
Once Upon a Time, there was a girl called Yanka who didn't know who she was. Abandoned in a bear cave, she is raised in a nearby village, but something keeps pulling her towards the Snow Forest, where an epic adventure awaits her...

I loved this book. I knew I would going into it because this is the second book by Sophie Anderson, and I adored her 2018 children's novel, 'The House With Chicken Legs'. I didn't think this one would beat 'House' for my affections, but incredibly, it did. It's a no-brainer - this is a solid five-star read.

'The Girl Who Speaks Bear' is an exhilarating adventure of mountainous heights - quite literally, too. We follow a young girl called Yanka who sets about uncovering the truth about her past, her family, but most importantly, where she belongs. I love stories that deal with a character's sense of place because there is always a valuable lesson to be learned amongst all this adventuring. Yanka is relatable because we've all been her at some point in our lives - questioning and curious about who we really are (and to be fair, some of us are still searching)!

The characters introduced in this novel are all wonderfully illustrated by Anderson's literary skill. I can feel the bond with Sasha (Yanka's best friend in the village) and what their friendship truly means to each other - and what they're willing to do for one another. I also thoroughly enjoyed Mousetrap, Yanka's weasel, who accompanies her and provides some comedic, yet wise, moments. We also meet Ivan, a wolf, Yuri, an elk, and Elena, a young girl who just so happens to connect with Anderson's previous work...

You don't have to read 'The House With Chicken Legs' before this one, but I would kind of recommend you do so anyway. I can't quite describe how much it meant to me to see a house with chicken legs in this story, and the return of the Yaga and that rich world we were introduced to in 'House', because I loved it so much in the first novel. Seeing the house and having it be part of the story made me realise just how much I missed it. But again, you will understand the story without reading 'House', so it's all good, but I loved this aspect of the story.

Also, the world of the Snow Forest and the backstories and fairy tales we are given enhance this story to a whole new level. In small chapters, we are told different stories in this book, orally spoken between characters of events that happened in the past - are they real, or made-up? Just fairy tales? We come to learn that these stories are important to the plot of this novel, but even if they hadn't been, I love the richness of them. They really do make me feel like I'm being told a fairy tale over some kind of campfire and I enjoy each and every one of them. They're so imaginative and compelling and only makes the world we are in feel that much more dangerous yet exciting.

The Snow Forest is beautiful and rich and oh, I could spend hours and hours in this world if I could. 'The Girl Who Speaks Bear' reminds me of Pixar's 'Brave' with the adventurous spirit of 'The Hobbit'. I am so very grateful to have read it because it was magical and everything I love in my children's literature.

Thank you so much to Usborne for sending me an advanced reading copy.
Profile Image for Melki.
5,676 reviews2,324 followers
January 25, 2022
After a nasty fall, twelve-year-old Yanka wakes up with bare legs bear legs.

(Sheesh! As if those early teen years aren't awkward enough!)

Though she's known throughout her village as Yanka the Bear, this is still a pretty strange development. She's earned that nickname because she's larger and stronger than just about anyone in the village, NOT because of her super-hairy gams. The weird thing is . . . Yanka has never felt like she belonged in the village, and NOW voices are calling her into the forest. It's time for Yanka to find out once and for all just which world she belongs in: human or ursine.

This is WONDERFUL, fairy tale-like read, with talking animals, stories within stories, and, best of all - a return visit with the Elena, Baba, and The House with Chicken Legs from Anderson's first book. There's a quest, a thrilling adventure, and a boss at the end who's not too easily vanquished. A perfectly splendiferous book for fantasy lovers of all ages.
Profile Image for Sara.
1,057 reviews353 followers
November 17, 2019
Yanka has always felt that she doesn’t quite fit in to the village she was raised in. Found as a baby in a bear cave, she’s felt a special calling to the forest. So when, one day, she wakes up with bear legs she sets out on an adventure with house weasel Mousetrap to discover who her family are, and who she really is.

This swept me away with its lush descriptions of a snowy magical enchanted forest interspersed with magical fairytales. Yanka is a wonderful character, who manages to convey this feeling of being an outcast while still eliciting a warmth to her nature. She’s caring and loving, but feels different - and it’s this sense of ‘otherness’ that leads her off on her adventures in discovering the truth. She’s joined at first by Mousetrap, who is easily my favourite character, who manages to bring humour and wit to the story (and an amazing, mesmerising war dance) with his outlandish stories of daring and a sense of self belief that Yanka herself lacks. As the story progresses, we see more of Yanka’s ‘herd’ come together with a motley crew of animals, and as the story suggests, they are stronger together, working as a team. It’s a brilliant message to convey.

There’s also the strong message of a ‘found family’ that’s driven home with the story, which I found endearing and heartwarming. It’s true that your family is who loves you and excepts you for what you are, regards of how you look. I really liked the way this message is told through the story, it’s never patronising, but rather grows organically from the tale itself. The writing is also good, and the pace is quick (but not too quick that there isn’t time for our characters to rest in a house with chicken legs).

A lovely, charming tale with snowy adventures and bears and a strong message.
Profile Image for Marilena ⚓.
595 reviews77 followers
December 10, 2019
Ωραίο βιβλιαράκι αλλά έχω διαβάσει καλύτερα του είδους.Θα ήθελα να διαβάσω και το The House with chicken legs της ίδιας!
Profile Image for Sophie Crane.
3,623 reviews117 followers
July 24, 2020
What a beautifully written book. I loved the character of Yanka and the story took us along on her journey. She didn’t think she fitted in where she lived- was that linked to the fact she was found in a bear cave? As she adventures to find out more about her past, she discovers the truth about her family. I particularly liked the fact that The house with chicken legs is mentioned throughout as I loved that book too. I can’t wait to share this with my book club! Recommended to readers 8+
Profile Image for Michelle Harrison.
Author 35 books1,120 followers
August 4, 2019
A gorgeously magical, lyrical fairy tale. A story within a story. Sophie Anderson’s writing is beautiful.
Profile Image for teach_book.
292 reviews623 followers
November 12, 2021
Przepiękna historia dwunastolatki. Historia przeplatana magią i baśniami inspirowanymi rosyjskim folklorem. Historia o poszukiwaniu siebie i swojego miejsca na ziemi.
Profile Image for Vee.
1,166 reviews92 followers
November 29, 2020

This was a wonderful modern fairy tale about finding the places that you belong, in a world/society that doesn’t seem to have a place for you. I found Yanka’s story very heartwarming and I really loved the cast of characters that we got to meet along the way, especially Mousetrap and Yuri.
I think there was a slight slowing of the pace around the the half way mark but it definitely picked up again in the third act.
This was my first Sophie Anderson book and I’m looking forward to checking out more of her middle grade work!
Profile Image for Sandra.
613 reviews95 followers
July 13, 2021
The house just won't sit still.
It is a bit young and overenthusiastic.

Don't you just love the whimsy of children's books.
Where else are you going to find a toddler house.

I rarely read childrens books, but occassionally the mood strikes and I am glad it did. I would have adored this as a child. It might be more of a wintery book (and I didn't know that going into it) but it was still perfect.

It has such a beautiful message of love and family and the story flowed so beautifully. I keep hearding that writing for children is the most difficult form of writing. It is so easy for stories to sound ridiculous and this never happened here. That is one of the reasons why I flew though this. Sophie Anderson knows her craft that is for sure.

Twelve year old Yanka is tall and strong. Which is why so many call her Yanka the bear. Something she is very self concious about and prompts her to spend so much time in the forest. She is very much in her (almost) nobody likes me phase. At least when we first find her.

Now at the village festival Yanka gets into an accident and wakes up with bearlegs. Because why not :) So in true childrens fairytale style she goes out adventuring the find out how this happened. I won't say too much because well spoilers.

If you want something to take your mind of pandemics and crisis' left and right this is the book to do it. Also if you are in the mood for exceptional hunting skills and war dances this is the book for you. And cod, let's not forget the cod. This book pays proper respect to seafood. Because someone in this story has to wax poetically about cod.

And in case anyone is still wondering the folklore is Balkan (Eastern European) and Russian inspired.

I'm looking forward to continuing the next book by this author.
Profile Image for Steph.
898 reviews68 followers
April 11, 2019
Storytelling at its very finest. Brilliant characters, beautiful worlds, exciting adventures and powerful messages. I just adored this. Yanka is a character that kids and adults will adore, and relate to! You can’t beat a bit of finding yourself and your people (or animals) with a good bit of story woven together. Just bloody brilliant.
Profile Image for Marta (Bibliofilem być).
416 reviews282 followers
March 19, 2022
Wspaniała baśniowa opowieść! Jak przy poprzedniej książce denerwowała mnie Marinka, tak tu Jankę uwielbiam i kibicowałam ją w poszukiwaniu samej siebie. Bohaterka ma 12 lat, ale to książka zarówno dla młodszych, jak starszych czytelników_czek.
Profile Image for Elliott.
109 reviews50 followers
January 22, 2020
For as long as I can remember, I have adored Russian fairy tales and folklore with its amazing creations of the firebird, Koschei the Deathless, and, especially, the Baba Yaga. When I read The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, I was enthralled with how she was able to bring such a fresh and original perspective on the myth of Baba Yaga. It instantly became one of my favorite books and I knew I would look forward to anything that she wrote. I was over-the-moon-thrilled when she sent me a copy of her latest work, The Girl Who Speaks Bear, not the least because it will not be released here in the United States until 2020.

The Prologue begins with the magical words of, “I remember the bear who raised me” Like any great storyteller, Sophie Anderson deftly weaves a story that is both magical and emotional – a delicate balance that she does with apparent ease that the reader is both drawn in to the adventure of the tale as well as the desire of a girl, Yanka, to know her true story. And there is the central drive of this novel: the importance and power of stories. Not only the fairy tales we tell, which contain truth, but the stories about who we are, where we came from, and understanding ourselves. This is the power that fairy tales and folklore have had ever since our ancestors began telling them and re-telling them.

Sophie Anderson is a skilled storyteller. She understands the capacity that a great tale can have on the reader and listener. Her words like any lasting fairy tale have a simplicity that reveals deep complexities about the need for a person to understand themselves and the very world around them. “They call me Yanka the Bear,” the protagonist tells us, “Not because of where I was found – only a few people know about that. They call me Yanka the Bear because I’m so big and strong.” Yes, she was discovered in a bear cave as a baby, which makes her feel separate and an outsider in her village, but then she awakens one morning to find her legs have become those of a bear.

This image is a powerful one of isolation, loneliness, and being different from others. Anderson uses this imagery to make the story not only magical as any told by Alexander Afanasyev, the Brothers Grimm, or Hans Christian Andersen but makes our empathy for Yanka grow as she leaves the village to undertake a journey into the forest to find out who she is. That is a question that all of us ask and hope to understand throughout our lives. To know who we are and where we belong. As in all fairy tales, forests are places of mystery, darkness, threat, danger, and of the struggle to understand. Psychologists have written extensively about how forests symbolize man’s need to understand the unconscious. As Carl Jung wrote, “The primordial language natural to these psychic processes, and no intellectual formulation comes anywhere near the richness and expressiveness of mythological imagery. Such processes are concerned with the primordial images [Urbilder = archetypes], and these are best and most succinctly reproduced by figurative language.”

Fairy tales are filled with these images or archetypes, but the great author can write them in such a creative way that one becomes so involved in the story that it is only after the fact that one begins to process the significance of their meaning. Sophie Anderson uses familiar characters and images from Russian fairy tales and breathes new life into them in a way that amazes and delights the reader. The story made me want to turn the page, to keep reading more to find out what happens next, and the more I read, the more invested I became in Yanka’s journey and in getting to know the people, animals, and magical figures that populate this incredible story. There’s a line in the book that summarized exactly how I felt about Anderson’s novel, it’s “A reminder of all that’s magical and mysterious in the world.”
Profile Image for J..
309 reviews30 followers
December 17, 2021

Sometimes, we don't need medicine to make us feel better. All we need is a story. A story like this... the most precious treasure in The Snow Forest!

The House with Chicken Legs is my favorite character!! It's like a Superhero, brave, strong and fearless.

It doesn't matter how someone looks like on the outside. Many books, movies, songs talked about that. Big heart, sacrifice, strength and love are what counts. Just don't be scared!!

Yanka is a bear. Or a girl.. Or A gift from the forest. A reminder of all that’s magical and mysterious in the world

For us all.
Profile Image for Aleshanee.
1,392 reviews93 followers
November 29, 2022
Wunderschönes Wintermärchen mit tollen Botschaften über Freundschaft, Familie und Zusammenhalt!

Das Cover und der Titel dieses märchenhaften Kinderbuches hat mich direkt neugierig gemacht und wir reisen hier auch in einen magischen Winterwald, der mit slawischen Elementen eine ganz besondere Atmosphäre erhält.

Janka ist 12, als plötzlich eine Veränderung mit ihr passiert, die sie an sich zweifeln lässt. Sie ist ein Findelkind und fühlte sich daher nie so wirklich ihrem Dorf zugehörig - obwohl sie ihre Ziehmutter Mamotschka sehr liebt und auch in Sascha einen wertvollen Freund hat. Ihre Unsicherheit ob ihrer Herkunft und wo sie hingehört lässt sie eine Entscheidung fällen die sie in gefährliche Abenteuer bringt.

Wir erleben die Geschichte aus der Ich-Perspektive von Janka und können deshalb sehr gut ihre Gedanken- und Gefühlswelt nachvollziehen. Da sie nichts über ihre Eltern weiß ist sie unsicher und glaubt, mehr herausfinden zu müssen und zu erkennen, wer sie wirklich ist. Diese Betonung darauf, die sich wiederholt, hat mich anfangs ein bisschen genervt muss ich zugeben. Viele Kinder leben in Heimen, sind Waisen oder kennen ihre Eltern nicht - oder erleben durch sie kein gutes Vorbild. Das Interesse daran ist natürlich klar, aber es war so fixiert darauf, dass ich mir nicht sicher war, wo es hinführen wird; oder wie das Kinder erleben, die in dieser Lage stecken.
Aber im Verlauf der Geschichte wandelt es sich und ich fand es richtig schön, zu welchen Erkenntnissen Janka kommt.
Es geht um die Familie, das zuhause, das man hat und die Menschen die einen lieben und annehmen, so dass viele Antworten auf die Fragen, hinter denen man her ist, eigentlich schon da sind.

Besonders schön hier auch die Freundschaften, die Gemeinschaften die sich bilden aus den unterschiedlichsten Figuren, die jeder für sich mit all ihren Stärken und Schwächen ihren Platz haben. Auch den Mut, die Wahrheit zu sagen, sich darauf zu verlassen, dass Freunde zu einem halten und dass man Hilfe annehmen soll und man nicht alles alleine durchstehen muss: denn dazu sind Freunde schließlich da.
Ebenso anzunehmen wie man ist, selbst wenn man Eigenschaften an sich entdeckt, die sich falsch anfühlen, was nur durch den Einfluss von außen stattfindet: man ist gut so wie man ist.
Sich seinen Ängsten zu stellen ist natürlich nicht leicht, aber in der Gemeinschaft schafft man mehr, als man zunächst für möglich hält.

Ganz toll waren auch die kleinen Märchen zwischendurch, die erzählt werden. Sie offenbaren nach und nach die Hintergründe zu Jankas Vergangenheit, was man zunächst gar nicht erkennt, am Ende dann aber ein bedeutsames Bild ergeben und die Geschichte abrunden.

Vorne im Buch gibts auch eine tolle Karte vom Schneewald, auf der man Jankas Wege genau verfolgen kann - und hinten im Buch befindet sich das Glossar, in der einige Wörter erklärt werden wie Babuschka, Samowar, Kwas etc.

Profile Image for Smitha Murthy.
Author 2 books245 followers
September 6, 2020
A couple of years ago I came across Katherine Arden’s magical Russian fairy tale called ‘The Bear And The Nightingale.’ I remember being lost in her books, my friend and I devouring them as soon as she released them. Now, ‘The Girl Who Speaks Bear’ is similar to Arden’s fabulous stories.

Set in Russia, we have a girl and a bear called Yanka who yearns to find out who she is, her past, and her true family. Taking her along in this journey is a bunch of assorted animals, including the lovable Mousetrap, the weasel, who cracked me up at various times.

Their adventures will delight the child reading this, but they remind us of the deep power of stories in transforming us. In allowing us flights into imaginary worlds, Sophie Anderson still shows us the redemption that lies in forgiveness, the values of friendships, the miracles of family, and the utterly lost art of finding oneself.

A little gem, this one.

Small quibble - I wish it was about 20 pages shorter. What’s wrong with us in this reading age? Wanting smaller and smaller reading chunks? Sigh.
Profile Image for Sasha .
292 reviews285 followers
December 29, 2021
Sophie Anderson is becoming (or already is at this point) my favourite Middle Grade author I think... I love Middle Grade books, I love wintry settings and as a Slavic person myself I love anything Slavic related...

Loved the magic, the family and friendship in this book. Everything was just so precious! I would simply recommend all of Sophie Anderson's books to everyone!

The Girl who speaks Bear is my favourite of her so far!
Profile Image for Robin Stevens.
Author 49 books2,058 followers
May 3, 2019
A gorgeous fairy tale adventure - Sophie Anderson has done it again! I loved this book. (9+)

*Please note: this review is meant as a recommendation only. If you use it in any marketing material, online or anywhere on a published book without asking permission from me first, I will ask you to remove that use immediately. Thank you!*
Profile Image for Scott Evans | The Reader Teacher.
51 reviews96 followers
April 23, 2019
Finished #TheGirlWhoSpeaksBear & my bookish heart is BURSTING. It’s every superlative I could say. The kind of folktales that show the strength of stories & remind us of who we are. I find myself feeling empty & so whole of emotion at the same time within Sophie’s words & worlds.
Profile Image for SheAintGotNoShoes.
1,559 reviews3 followers
May 13, 2022
This author is a wonderful and original storyteller. I like storytellers rather than just plain children's authors, which is why I am a big fan of Kate DiCamillo. I discovered after reading her first book, The House with Chicken legs which I loved. I like all Baba Yaga stories which was how I discovered it in the first place. I put in Baba Yaga in my library's search bar.

This book is equally unique with humans who are cursed for being greedy by becoming bears. Very unique and heart warming.

Profile Image for Mathew.
1,473 reviews171 followers
April 12, 2021
Yanka’s past is steeped in folkloric mystery. From bear kings and queens to wish-granting trees and fiery three-headed dragons, her story stands upon the borders of reality and fantasy. When Yanka wakes up one day to find that her legs are no longer the normal legs of a twelve-year-old but those of a bear, she realises that she must leave one realm for another in order to uncover her past and reclaim her future... My review continues here here
Profile Image for Noelia Alonso.
747 reviews117 followers
February 13, 2020
RATING: 3.5 STARS (7/10)

this is a great children's book with a beautiful message about belonging and accepting ourselves as we are; with an awesome cast of animal characters. children will love this fairytale.
Profile Image for Catherine Doyle.
Author 14 books1,524 followers
April 29, 2019
A magical, captivating read. It's beautiful from start to finish, and certainly a worthy follow up to The House With Chicken Legs which was one of my favourite books of last year.
Profile Image for Dragana Martinović.
315 reviews44 followers
August 12, 2021
Predivno 😍
Magično ⭐
Nemam reči da opišem

Mnogo bolje od Kuće na pilećim nogama koju sam jedva pročitala.
Profile Image for Alfie Rowland.
49 reviews
July 31, 2019
Sophie Anderson returns yet again with another story inspired and influenced by the stories that her Prussian grandmother would tell her as a child. This time we follow Yanka the Bear, not that she’s an actual bear, but she’s just strong like one and she’s even the tallest person in her village. She lives with her Mamochka and their house weasel who found her wandering near a bear cave when she was just a few years old . However, Yanka doesn’t always fit in. She doesn’t have many friends at all and she hears voices from the woods telling her to come with them, voices only she can hear.

After an accident, Yanka realises that she may not be the girl that she’s always thought herself to be. The only answers to her mysterious past lie deep in The Snow Forest and beyond, so she sets off on her quest to discover the secrets of her past and what her future has in store. Along the way she makes a new herd of friends and finds out some very shocking and magical secrets that she could only have dreamed of.

I loved The House With Chicken Legs, it was one of the best middle grade books that I read last year. You simply can tell that Sophie Anderson has storytelling blood, it comes through in her whimsical and magical language that you lose yourself in. In The Girl Who Speaks Bear we even get stories within stories with fairy tales involving bears scattered throughout. As soon as a character said “once upon a time” I grew instantly excited, ready to devour another ursine tale. The fairy tales then weave together a second story which eventually intertwines with Yanka’s tale creating a completely novel experience.

[ Continue Reading
Profile Image for Somia.
2,050 reviews123 followers
September 21, 2019
Once Upon a Time, there was a girl called Yanka who didn't know who she was. Abandoned in a bear cave, she is raised in a nearby village, but something keeps pulling her towards the Snow Forest, where a marvellously epic adventure awaits, one which will finally unveil the secrets of her past and present.

I have to say the world found in the Snow Forest, as well as the fairy-tales intricately woven into Yanka’s story/adventure added a lovely layer to the overarching tale.

A charming and somewhat whimsical read for me – I found myself absorbed, especially in the latter half of the book – there were moments that had me smiling in pleasure, and my heart aching a little.

The illustrations throughout are nice touch, and compliment what is written.

This book is staying in my collection at home, and I can’t wait to read it to my younger cousins. I’ll also be looking into the author’s other book(s).

Free copy received via Amazon.
Profile Image for Elena.
183 reviews2 followers
May 1, 2020
Couldn't get into this story, I kept picking up the book and putting it down after a few pages. I didn't specially like the main protagonist and the little tales scattered throughout the book kept putting me out the main story-line. The part that I enjoyed the most was how the book was connected to the previous novel and we got another glimpse into the Yaga world.

I think it's a case of "It's me, not the book", the story just didn't resonate with me at all but I can see how other people will really enjoy it. I'll definitely check future novels by Sophie Anderson 'cause I completely adored The House with Chicken Legs, such a pity I didn't enjoy this one as much.
Profile Image for Maria Carmo.
1,816 reviews47 followers
December 30, 2019
What a stunning second book by Sophie Anderson, every bit as magic as her previous House with the Chicken Legs! The characters are wonderflly woven in such colourful light web, that the Reader is mesmerized and under a spell. Congratulations on this amazing story. Lovely. Looking forward to anything Sophie ever writes, but I guess she has deserved every moment back home, back from the forest!

Maria Carmo,


30 December 2019.
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