In many ways, Hilda is an ordinary girl. She enjoys going outside to explore, she loves animals and drawing, and she makes an effort to be friends with everyone she meets. However, Hilda’s world is extraordinary—full of amazing mythical creatures such as trolls, tiny elves, house spirits, huge black hounds, and giants—and this is where she gets her unusually keen sense of adventure. Kids who are fantasy adventure fans will enjoy the Hilda stories simply from a plot and setting perspective; Hilda’s interactions with trolls and giants take place on a grand scale and consistently inspire wonder and excitement while never becoming too threatening or frightening.
Several aspects of this series make it stand apart from others in this genre. First, Hilda as a character is masterfully portrayed by Pearson. She’s a very intrepid girl who boldly seeks out elf kings, climbs atop flying creatures called woffs in order to reach a giant’s ear, and jumps through mystical portals with house spirits. Hilda is also an overwhelmingly kind and sympathetic soul, always taking the time to stop and help creatures or people in trouble, especially if they are smaller or weaker. One of the principal messages of the series is that even one small person can do an enormous amount of good in the world, if they’re both brave and kind.
Hilda’s relationship with her mother is also complex and realistic. Hilda’s mother clearly loves her and is proud of her, but Hilda’s adventurousness and kind, trusting nature is also worrisome, especially after the pair move to Trolberg, a big city, at the end of Volume 2. It’s never explicitly stated what Hilda’s mother is afraid of, but a lot of kids will recognize and identify with the parental fretting and Hilda’s insistence that she is fine on her own. Hilda’s desire to exert her independence and her mother’s desire to keep Hilda safe comes to a head in Volume 5, the longest and most complex of the Hilda stories. Kids will be comforted to see that even though the two come into conflict, there’s an even stronger bond of love between them that shines through in times of crisis.
One aspect of the series is troubling, and that’s Pearson’s inclusion of a thunderbird as one of the creatures Hilda helps and ultimately makes friends with. I feel that this is an instance of cultural appropriation that could easily have been avoided. The thunderbird even tells Hilda, “The people thought I was the raven messenger of the god they worshiped,” implying that it was mistaken for one of Odin’s ravens. It would have been a better move on Pearson’s part to leave it at that, rather than using the idea of the thunderbird figure in the Hilda books, with no references made to the Native peoples whose cultures it originated from.
Visually, the Hilda series is a treat. Hilda’s bright blue hair and vividly expressive face emotionally carries the reader through every story arc. The creatures and general environment of Hilda’s world have a strong Nordic feel to them, but the artwork also has a hint of Miyazaki’s influence as well. Pearson’s style will especially be appreciated by fans of Adventure Time, where Pearson has done writing and storyboarding work.
Kids aged 6 and up who are fans of Dana Simpson’s Heavenly Nostrils series, Rob Harrell’s Monster on the Hill, and Jorge Aguirre’s Chronicles of Claudette series will love the Hilda series for its adventurous heroine and messages of kindness and empathy.
Hilda and the Troll, vol. 1
Hilda and the Midnight Giant, vol. 2
Hilda and the Bird Parade, vol. 3
Hilda and the Black Hound, vol. 4
Hilda and the Stone Forest, vol. 5
by Luke Pearson
Flying Eye Books, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 7-10