I guess you don't have to celebrate my Swedish heritage. You could celebrate yours (if you're lucky enough) or you could celebrate Astrid Lindgren's. I usually get worked up about my Swedishness around Santa Lucia day, but delightfully, the Tor blog is celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Moomins. What are the Moomins? I quote (from Tor):
"Well, they’re like white hippos. And they’re Finnish. They’re sort of like the Finnish version of Winnie the Pooh and all his friends. They sprung from the imagination of artist and writer Tove Jansson 65 years ago, and over time became a European phenomenon!"Now, this is surely delightful, but the above does fail to mention that Tove Jansson was Swedish-Finnish. And that the Moomins look a bit like Jeff Smith's Bone. Other than that, yes. Go to Tor for re-reads and a chance to win the first four books in the series.
And that is not the only way you can celebrate Swedish children's literature. Oh no. You can get your hands on a copy of Kitty Crowther's Jack and Jim.
Not long ago, I found out via Bookshelves of Doom that Swedish illustrator Kitty Crowther won the 2010 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Hurrah! Now, I realize that Kitty Crowther is technically Belgian, but her mother is Swedish, so I will refer to her as Swedish. And the Guardian refers to the award as "the richest award in children's literature." So why have I never heard of it? Probably because it's international, and I'm a typical American.
So just this week, a copy of Crowther's book Jack and Jim arrived at my library. I am happy to report that besides having the best sort of anthropormorphic animals (the grown-up kind, like in Wind and the Willows and Frog and Toad), the book tells a tale of literacy triumphing over prejudice. No, really!
It's the story of a blackbird who befriends (or possibly falls in love with?) a seagull and leaves the forest to visit the seagull's coastal town. The other seagulls make it clear that they don't welcome this strange, dark-feathered bird. But they are won over when they overhear the blackbird reading aloud! Apparently, the seagulls can't read, while the forest creatures can. So the blackbird wins everyone over by sharing literature with them.
The blackbird is black and the seagulls are white, and we have a situation with two males living together, but the seagulls never get specific about what they dislike about the blackbird. There's no beating-you-ever-the-head-with-it here. The text is longish, so you'd need a thoughtful few moments to read it aloud. I also thought it was unusual (perhaps quaint?) the way the text was sometimes broken up by miniature illustrations--the kind that float on the page without any background. So you have a few pages in which there are four little pictures of Jack and Jim talking, and each picture is only slightly different from the one before--the characters cock their heads or fold their arms.
The copy on the ALMA page includes this passage, which I think describes the impression her art leaves with you: "She addresses readers personally using a limited repertoire of tools, principal among them pencil, ink and coloured pencils. Facial expressions, posture and atmosphere are captured with unfailing precision."
A lot of her work hasn't been translated into English, but you can see more of it on the Guardian slide show from when she received her award. Enjoy!