Published by Usborne, 2019.
I completely loved this book! I was drawn to it because of the cover – a determined young woman, a dramatic landscape, the mysterious white bear – and it didn’t disappoint. The book is based on the Norwegian folk tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Edith Pattou has adapted the story, fleshing it out with additional characters and detail.
Rose is a north child (determined by the direction her mother was facing when she gave birth) and according to superstition this means that she is destined to explore, and to travel far from home on a dangerous journey. Her mother rallies against Rose’s birth direction, desperately trying to keep her close, but Rose is adventurous and inquisitive from an early age.
It is little surprise then that when the White Bear visits the family and asks Rose to leave with him that she accepts. This is the beginning of Rose’s epic adventure. Rose travels miles on the White Bear’s back until they reach a castle in the mountainside. Here Rose is to remain, living alongside the White Bear. Almost a year passes and during this time they become companions, developing a quiet understanding and an affection for each other. However, one night Rose makes a choice which sees the White Bear snatched away and taken unwillingly to a land east of the sun and west of the moon. Wracked with guilt and driven by loyalty and love, Rose embarks on a journey to rescue the White Bear, voyaging over land, sea and ice.
The book is split into sections, each one a point on the compass. Every section has its own focus and is a distinct part of Rose’s story; her childhood, her journey with the White Bear, her sea voyage, and her trek through the frozen north. It reads like several tales in one and I really enjoyed this structure and variety. The chapters are short, which gives the book pace, and the narrator switches from chapter to chapter. All in all, five different characters narrate the story and I liked hearing the story told from different points of view. I especially liked the short, fractured sentences of the White Bear’s early chapters; they read like poetry.
I loved the rich mix of stories within the story. Edith has incorporated Norse mythology, Viking stories, and oral story telling traditions. I was reminded too, in parts, of The Beauty and the Beast.
The book is full of strong female characters who make great role models for young readers. Rose is a force to be reckoned with: brave, adventurous and determined. She learns quickly and is resourceful and quick-thinking. I was also impressed by Malmo the shaman. She is highly adept at surviving in the harsh environment of the Arctic and shows great kindness and wisdom. The widow Sofi and her daughter Estelle are quietly strong, selflessly supporting Rose and demonstrating true sisterhood.
The themes of family, friendship, loyalty and love are interwoven throughout the story and make it an emotionally powerful tale. It’s made even more special by the mystery, magic and enchantment which fill the pages. Another striking aspect of the book are the characters who have a connection with nature. Malmo is at one with the snowy landscape in which she lives; she is in tune with the changing weather and is able to foresee the approach of a blizzard. She knows how to survive in this inhospitable environment and respects the natural world. Thor, the ship’s captain, can also read the weather and navigate the oceans because of his deep understanding and connection with nature.
I was completely gripped by North Child and read it at every opportunity. I was fully drawn into Rose’s world. The story is exciting, rich and complex. It’s one that will stay with me.
Suitable for children aged 8+
Thank you to Usborne for sending me this book to review.