Hilda and the Stone Forest – Luke Pearson

4 out of 5

Another cluttered swirl of incredible fun in the Hilda world, this fifth book in the series does exactly what my favorite youth-geared kids’ books do: it actually builds on what’s come before. Standalone adventures are great, but it’s rewarding when it’s allowed that a reader is growing along with the material, thus maturing the material as the audience does. The Hilda books already have a leg up in that department, allowing for the relationship between Hilda and her mother to be a very open and understanding one, in which our lil’ adventurer is given a lot of room to explore and discover and learn on her own, with mom checking in – and intervening – here and there to make her care for her daughter clear. It’s a very real feeling relationship, surrounded by the fantasy of the world, and embraces creativity by not outright questioning it – and indeed, we find that the absurd elements of Hilda’s world are not just childish imaginings, but rather integrated folklore that everyone shares.

Two books gave us friendly adventures outside the borders of Trolberg; a move to the big city added some shake-ups to the Hilda formula (also where the clutter creeped in moreso); and now we get a story that merges everything, with a Nisse mishap spitting Hilda and her mother into the titular “stone forest,” in which the trolls reside.

The trolls were our starting point for the book, and so this is a return. In part, it’s a return to expand (indirectly) on their mythology, but it’s also Luke adding to our leads’ relationship with each other, the aforementioned maturity coming in a further acceptance of their needing to be a parent and child dynamic – that Hilda will need her mum sometimes, but her mum wants Hilda to be exactly who she is, fearless explorative spirit and all – and also in how the fantastic elements of this world are proving to be potentially dangerous as well. We broached this in the previous book, but there, the threat turned out to be misunderstood; here, reaching an understanding might not be possible, and the book gets to flex some pretty intense cat and mouse chops and chase sequences as a result.

Pearson’s visuals in capturing this are wonderfully smooth by this point, but I do find the colors somewhat distracting. Hilda’s blue hair has been a fun, odd pop to the orange and brown palette; the move to the city brought in some less Earthy colors. The last couple of books, with more cramped paneling, have been occasionally a bit bumpy in how Luke uses background color splashes and highlights, but there’s generally been an overall scheme that wins out. The Stone Forest is very much in disarray, though. Backgrounds change palettes on a whim, which makes those color splashes – often used for highlighting emotion, but used rather too frequently – even more discordant, and the effect can be a visual overload which juxtaposingly makes the pages seem bland. The fun of the story carries it through, but it’s a disconnect, where you want the visuals to support that fun more than they sometimes do.

Finally, a major sign of the scope of these stories increasing: we end on a cliffhanger!