Tough cookies

30 March 2008 | Authors, Interviews

Aino Havukainen and Sami Toivonen’s quirky duo Tatu and Patu delight readers of all ages. Interview by Anna-Leena Ekroos

Once upon a time there were two remarkably round-headed, thin-haired brothers. They were named Tatu and Patu and their principal personal attributes were curiosity and adventurousness. In the boys’s hometown of Outola (‘Oddsville’), things were done a little differently from around here. So when the boys leave their stomping grounds on an expedition into our world, perplexity and amusing situations ensue.

Tatu and Patu’s adventures are brought to us by Aino Havukainen and Sami Toivonen. This married couple works together as children’s authors, illustrators and graphic designers. Havukainen and Toivonen’s first Tatu and Patu book, Tatu ja Patu Helsingissä (‘Tatu and Patu in Helsinki’), appeared in 2003. Subsequently, four more books have followed, and now Outola’s native sons are known all over Finland. Their reputation has reached other climes as well: the pair’s adventures have been translated into Japanese and Hungarian.

A-L E: How was the idea for Tatu and Patu born?

AH: The characters just popped into my head, I guess from my subconscious. Originally our intention was to do a concept of an entirely different sort, but it went straight into the bin when we came up with this idea.

ST: Because the characters are pure Aino, it took me a little while to get used to Tatu and Patu’s ways. For example, sometimes I would draw 35 sketches of some pose before it looked the way it should.

A-L E: The newest book in the series, Tatun ja Patun Suomi, recently received the Finlandia Junior literature prize. The book has also appeared in English under the title This is Finland, translated by Owen Witesman. What sort of feelings did this recognition bring?

ST and AH: The prize was a great joy and quite a surprise; we didn’t believe you could win with a humorous picture book. The extent and duration of the festivities following the prize were also a complete surprise. It took a long time before we got back to normal life again.

A-L E: In the book, the brothers roam through Finland from north to south and really get down to the nitty-gritty detail of what Finland is made of. In the historical section, the boys relive Finnish life in different decades. Back in the modern day, they peek into the Virtanen household, where they find proto-typically Finnish stuff like Marimekko Unikko curtains, an Alvar Aalto vase, and Nordic walking poles. I imagine it wasn’t an easy task to distil the 90-year history of Finland into a picture book.

ST and AH: This was undoubtedly the most laborious Tatu and Patu and will probably remain so. Usually we squeeze our books into one intense work jag in the spring, but this one ran on into the summer as well. We had considered the Finland idea before, but back then the enormity of the task was too draining and we let the idea rest. When the 90th anniversary of independence began to approach, we thought that it was now or never. Just to give one example, it was difficult to choose the perspective for the section about the present day. We settled on the perspective of a parody of a television announcer. Above all, we wanted to re-examine the cornerstones of Finnishness using a mildly anarchic lens.

A-L E: The book offers a lot of information, seasoned with humour. Did you learn anything new about our country yourselves while working on the book?

ST and AH: At least that the pedestrian reflector, as worn by people on their bags or jackets during the dark winter months, is a Finnish invention. Everyone knows that Nordic walking is a Finnish invention, but few people can guess the homeland of the reflector.

A-L E: In your books there are a lot of delightful details. For example, in this newest one, the sharp-eyed reader can spot the same issue of Donald Duck in many different homes.

ST and AH: The details are the icing that we add last to the books. They also have to have different levels for different ages of readers. We like books where there a lot of details to spot ourselves.

A-L E: Let’s move to extra-literary concerns for a moment. Last fall you moved from western Finland to Vammala, near the city of Tampere, in the middle of the country. Why?

ST and AH: It was sort of by accident. In the summer we visited the annual Fair of Old Literature in Vammala to tell about Tatu and Patu, and we fell in love with the area so thoroughly, that here we are. We’ve gotten on famously here.

A-L E: You have two small girls. Do you read the Tatu and Patu books as bedtime stories?

ST and AH: Sometimes we test out the raw material for a new book on the girls, but otherwise we don’t generally pull out our own books. We don’t really know how to react to them as books, just as past work.

A-L E: What were your own favourite childhood books?

AH: Well, at least the French Le Petit Nicolas and Asterix books, in Finnish translations.

ST: I really liked the French illustrator Tomi Ungerer’s books for kids, and Richard Scarry’s books.

A-L E: Tatu and Patu aren’t the only things that keep you busy. You also illustrate Tiina and Sinikka Nopola’s Risto Räppääjä (‘Risto Rapper’) series and you draw the comic strip for adults Himaset (‘The Homebodies’) that appears once a week in the Ilta-Sanomat evening paper. Is this sort of varied work a blessing or a burden?

ST and AH: A blessing — no question about it. It’s good to do several things: if you get bogged down in one thing for a while, you can just move right on to tackle the next thing. Illustrating Risto Räppääjä is liberating in the sense that we don’t have to worry about the plot at all. While with Himaset, sometimes we end up using things from our own family, done up a bit. This spring, the first Himaset album is coming out. Its name, Juustoon ei saa piirtää! (‘Don’t draw on the cheese!’) is a line straight from our own life.

A-L E: What comes first in your books, the words or the pictures?

ST and AH: They come at the same time and are equally important. In our way of working, word and image can’t get along without each other.

A-L E: And what is your division of labour like?

ST and AH: We do things overlapping and interconnected; we can’t say that one of us just draws and the other one just writes. But we each have our own strengths: Aino is better at composition; she notices immediately if something is off. Sami is the master of technical details. We complement each other well. It was a real stroke of luck that we met back in the day at the Institute of Design in Lahti!

A-L E: Is the sixth Tatu and Patu already percolating?

ST and AH: We’ve settled on the subject, but we haven’t got any further than that.

Translated by Owen Witesman

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