Yolen’s clever retelling of an old Norse folktale changes the main character from a boy to a brave, smart girl named Halva, a welcome addition to the roster of clever folk heroines who solve their own problems.
Halva finds an adorable, white bear cub in the woods and takes her home to raise as her pet, despite parental misgivings. The bear becomes so well-trained and beloved that she earns the name of Sister Bear. When Halva decides to take Sister Bear to meet the king, they stop on Christmas Eve to stay with a family along their route. Her new friends are about to evacuate in fear of the annual Christmastime visit of a pack of evil trolls, so Halva and Sister Bear decide to take on the trolls. Together they fend off the troll attack with a combination of wits and Sister Bear’s brawn and then continue their journey to visit the king. Appealing illustrations in pastel, colored pencil and watercolor create delightful personalities for Halva and Sister Bear along with intricately detailed Scandinavian costumes and interior scenes. The troupe of trolls is suitably horrid (“[t]en feet high, green teeth, terrible manners”) though not truly terrifying.
This satisfying tale from a consummate storyteller will be popular with those who like Scandinavian settings, and many readers will wish for a companion like Sister Bear. (author’s note) (Picture book/folktale. 4-8)