The country comes to town in this coyly modern fairy story of 1937 by the classic children’s writer Raul Roine (1907-1960). Reynard the Fox, the village taxi-driver, celebrates restoring his beat-up old Ford by taking his woodland friends – squirrels, chaffinches, bobtails… – on a day out to Helsinki. Trouble starts when a policeman tells them off for eating the plants in the Esplanade park, but the fun really begins when the hares find themselves participating in the marathon which is being run through the city streets that day…
The translation of this delectable tale is by Books from Finland’s long-time collaborator Herbert Lomas (1924-2011), who was often at his best when working on the whimsy of children’s literature.
Spring had come to the forest homeland. The wood anemones were raising their heads shyly from under the moss, large tears of joy were flowing down the spruce trees’ beards of lichen, and sky-ploughs of cranes were coming from the south. They bugled mightily on their trumpets and then landed in the Great Marsh to sample the cranberries More…
Stories from Kirahviäiti ja muita hölmöjä aikuisia (‘The giraffe mummy and other silly adults’, Teos, 2013), illustrated by Martina Matlovičová. Interview of Alexandra Salmela by Anna-Leena Ekroos
The monkey princess
Adalmiina’s life was not an easy one. Her parents decided to prepare her for her career as a princess when she was a little girl: when Adalmiina was three she was sent to ballet school, at four she started taking lute lessons and at five she went on a course in magic-mirror gazing.
When Adalmiina turned six, she received a giant suitcase full of princess clothes and shoes.
‘Put them on, darling, we want to see you in all your lovely beauty!’ her mother sparkled, waving a muslin veil.
‘I want to go to the jungle!’ Adalmiina demanded. ‘Without any clothes!’
‘Will we have to force you to dress in all your glory?’ her parents snapped.
‘You’ll have to catch me first!’ Adalmiina announced, running into the garden. More…
Finnish picture books for children have long been reliable export goods around the world. In the last few years, a number of novels for children have come along in their wake: works by authors such as Timo Parvela and Siri Kolu have been translated into a good many languages.
Now young adult literature has also blazed a trail on to the international market – in what also seems to be almost a matter of precision timing with regard to the Frankfurt Book Fair 2014. Finnish publishers have been investing in their home-grown lists of children’s and young adult books ever since the turn of the millennium, and now the time has come to harvest the fruits of their long-term efforts.
Fantasy novels and dystopias feature in the new Finnish fiction for young readers; popular children’s books are recycled – stories and illustrations are adapted to new media and for new age groups. Päivi Heikkilä-Halttunen takes a look at new books for young readers published in 2012
All new mothers in Finland receive a ‘maternity package’ from the state containing items for the baby (including bedding, clothing and various childcare products) intended to give each baby a good start in life. This tradition, which started in 1938, is believed to be the only such programme in the world.
Each package also contains the baby’s first book, traditionally a sturdy board book by a Finnish author. The past few years have seen more original board books published in Finland than ever before: they are doing well in competition alongside books translated from other languages. Board books for babies have become a focus for Finnish illustrators and graphic artists. These books, with their simple visual language, have taken on a retro look.
History was made with the Finlandia Junior award, when for the first time the prestigious prize was given to a picture book originally written in Finland-Swedish: Det vindunderliga ägget (‘A most extraordinary egg’, Schildts & Söderströms) by Christel Rönns. The award can also be seen as an acknowledgement of the brave, experimental Finland-Swedish children’s picture books that are being published these days. Finnish-language picture books, on the other hand, are still crying out for more figures to shake up traditional practices. More…
Two fables from Gepardi katsoo peiliin (‘The cheetah looks into the mirror’, Tammi, 2003). Illustrations by Kirsi Neuvonen. (More fables by Hannele Huovi here.)
The air rippled above the pile of stones. The lizard twitched her hip and took up an s-shaped pose like an ordinary photo model. After a moment she changed her left side to a convex curve. The movement was quick and graceful; the lizard’s tail swished through a broad arc so quickly you could hardly see it. Her thin, blistery skin pressed against the surface of the stone. The lizard felt the rough, raised patterns through the thin skin of her belly. She felt unpleasant, but otherwise the place was good, and the lizard did not have the energy to look for a better one. She looked through her eyelashes at the fissured sky and saw the golden disc shining at the centre of the dome. She was happy. Everything in her life was good, the weather was pleasantly dry, the temperature exactly suitable. More…
Extracts from the children’s book Zoo – eläimellinen tarina (‘Zoo – a bestial story’, WSOY, 2009, illustrated by Pertti Jarla)
The place: A zoo, once the property of the city, now privatised and accountable to corporate stockholders
The characters: The animals of the zoo, in particular Gandhi, a Sumatran tiger (false-teeth, poor vision, pacifist), Che, a male mandrill baboon (militant), and Mother Teresa, a hammer-headed bat (elderly); the zookeeper Sihvonen (stands up for the animals, recently fired); the new zoo director (whose main goal is to maximise profits); the shareholders’ committee (awaiting their earnings)
The action: after a demonstration in which all the animals played dead, the animals are staging a revolution to demand that Sihvonen be reinstated
The animals crowded into the foyer. The hallway was full of every kind of creature, with all of their skin, fur and feathers steaming in the warm indoor air. Che stood at the top of the the stairs, looked down at his troops, and gave the order in mime for everybody to be quiet.
‘Reconnaissance?’ he said, his voice subdued.
‘Ready!’ the leaf-tailed geckos announced.
‘Head in!’ Che commanded. More…
A story from the children’s book Sorsa norsun räätälinä (‘The mallard as tailor to the elephant’, Otava, 2008; illustrated by Christel Rönns. Introduction by Päivi Heikkilä-Halttunen
Back in the days when mallard still had horns, earthworms, claws, and the bear had a long tail, a bear was trudging dejectedly along the road.
Up drove a fox in his van, studded tires crunching, for it was winter and freezing cold. The fox was coming from fishing and his van was bursting with fresh fish. When he saw the bear, the fox stopped, rolled down the window and called, ‘Why hi there, old honey snout! Where’re you coming from?’
‘I was playing cards at Badger’s. I lost all my money and now I’m starving,’ the bear replied.
‘Jump in. No need to suffer in the grip of this cold,’ the fox said. The fox and the bear were good friends. However, the fox envied the bear, because Mr Honeypaws had a much longer, more handsome tail than the fox did. The bear clambered into the fox’s car and saw the enormous catch of fish.
‘Wherever did you get such an incredible amount of fish?’ the bear marvelled.
‘The lake. That’s where you get fish,’ the fox replied. ‘Last week I caught such a big pike that I made snow shovels out of its scales.’ More…
Extracts from the children’s book Ella: Varokaa lapsia! (‘Ella: Look out for children!’, Tammi, 2006). Interview by Anna-Leena Nissilä
There was a large van in the schoolyard with a thick cable winding its way from the van into the school. It was from the TV station, and the surprise was that they wanted to do a programme about our teacher, believe it or not.
The classroom was filled with lights, cameras, and adults.
‘Are you the weird teacher?’ a young man asked. He had a funny, shaggy beard and a t-shirt that said ‘errand boy’.
‘Not nearly as weird as your beard,’ our teacher answered.
‘Can we do a little piece about you?’ the errand boy asked.
‘Of course. A big one even. I’ve been expecting you, actually. Is it some educational programme?’
‘A substantive discussion programme, though?’
‘A documentary about our contemporary educators?’
‘Not quite.’ More…
Fables from the children’s book Gepardi katsoo peiliin (‘A cheetah looks into the mirror’, Tammi, 2003). Illustrations by Kirsi Neuvonen
The rhinoceros was late. She went blundering along a green tunnel she’d thrashed through the jungle. On her way, she plucked a leaf or two between her lips and could herself hear the thundering of her own feet. Snakes’ tails flashed away from the branches and apes bounded out of the rhino’s path, screaming. The rhino had booked an afternoon appointment and the sun had already passed the zenith.
When the rhinoceros finally arrived at the beautician’s, the cosmetologist had already prepared her mud bath. The rhino was able to throw herself straight in, and mud went splattering all round the wide hollow. More…
A fairy-tale, first published in the literary yearbook Svea (Stockholm) in 1879. Introduction by Esa Sironen
The matchstick lay for the first time in its new box on the factory table and thought about what had happened to it so far during its short life. It could still dimly remember how the big aspen tree had grown on the river bank, how it had been felled, sawed, and finally planed into many thousand small splinters of which the match was one. After that, it had been sorted into piles and rows with its friends, dipped in horrible melting pans, put out to dry, dipped again and finally placed in the box. This was not really a remarkable fate, nor a great heroic deed. But the match had acquired a burning desire to do something in the world. Its body was made from the timorous aspen, which is constantly a-quiver because it is afraid that the faint evening breeze might grow into a gale and tear it up by the roots. It so happened, however, that the match’s head had been dipped in stuff that makes one ambitious and want to shine in the world, and so a struggle developed, as it were, between body and head. When the inflammable head, fizzing in silence, cried: ‘Rush out now and do something!’ the cautious body always had an objection ready, and whispered: ‘No, wait a little, ask and find out if it’s time yet!’ More…
Tove Jansson wrote the first Moomin book in the dark days of Finland’s Winter War in 1939. This extract, from Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (‘The little trolls and the big flood’, Schildts, 1945, 1991), tells the story of how the Moomins found their home
It had become very hot late in the afternoon. Everywhere the plants drooped, and the sun shone down with a dismal red light. Even though Moomins are very fond of warmth, they felt quite limp and would have liked to rest under one of the large cactuses that grew everywhere. But Moominmamma would not stop until they had found some trace of Moomintroll’s Papa. They continued on their way, even though it was already beginning to get dark, always straight in a southerly direction. Suddenly the small creature stopped and listened. ‘What’s that pattering around us?’ he asked.
And now they could hear a whispering and a rustling among the leaves. ‘It’s only the rain,’ said Moominmamma. ‘Even so, now we must crawl in under the cactuses.’
All night it rained, and in the morning it was simply pouring down. When they looked out, everything was grey and melancholy. More…
Poems from Tiitiäisen pippurimylly (‘The Tumpkin’s pepper mill’, Otava, 1991). Kirsi Kunnas’s classic children’s books, Tiitiäisen satupuu (‘The Tumpkin’s story tree’) and Tiitiäisen tarinoita (‘The Tumpkin’s tales’), appeared in 1956 and 1957
Mr Saxophone and Miss Clarinet
Mr Saxophone went moony beginning to fret about Miss Clarinet: Moan moan moan darling little crow! I love you so! moaned Mr Saxophone.
Miss Clarinet was very upset: I won't be owned! And I'm no little crow! I sob like a dove, and even about love I sing alone! Oh moan moan moan groaned Mr Saxophone.
Extracts from Lastenkirja (‘Children’s book’, WSOY, 1990, illustrated by the Estonian animator and graphic artist Priit Pärn)
CHILDREN’S BOOK IS BORN
Children are wafting around the world: they come spilling out of the chimneys and clattering out of the pipes. They worm around cramped places in the nether regions, rise up through stiff roots into the treetops and muss up the clouds. Children just happen anywhere and bring the Adults along with them. More…
An extract from Mattan från Kars (‘The rug from Kars’). Introduction by Tuva Korsström
Mother Limberg and Apelman’s Anna Lina were sitting together on the steps up to Mother Limberg’s cabin in Mickelgård Street in Tulavall. They were mourning. They were grieving for the old army captain, Alexander Grunnstedt, who had fought in the Caucasus in his youth, had lived alone in the Limberg’s gable room in his old age and then had lost his way in the forest, had a heart attack and been carried off in his coffin by his daughter-in-law.
It was late summer and sunny weather.
‘She could’ve had him buried here,’ said Mother Limberg.
‘She thought it too simple here,’ said Anna Lina. More…