Author: Päivi Heikkilä-Halttunen

Liisa Kallio: Pikku Papu [Little Papu]

31 January 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Pikku Papu
[Little Papu]
Kuvitus [Ill. by]: Liisa Kallio
Helsinki: Tammi, 2010. 31 p.
ISBN 978-951-31-5242-0
€10.30, hardback

In 2009, Finnish publisher Tammi launched its Tammenterho (‘Acorn’) series of picture books written by established Finnish authors to run along its Tammen Kultaiset kirjat (Tammi Golden Books series, modelled after a US imprint dating back to the 1940s). Pikku Papu is a jolly wandering tale for the smallest children. Papu the Tortoise notices that his shell, which he left on the beach while he went for a swim, has shrunk. In his search for a solution to his problem, he encounters a number of animals. Papu tries to cover himself with a glove he finds on the beach, but it proves to be too warm, and an eggshell he is given by a bird cracks. Fortunately, of course, everything works out in the end. This gentle story lets children identify colours and shapes and recognise various animals. The collage illustrations are attractive, and the text is simple, calmly told and appropriately short.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

Tapani Bagge: Maalla [In the country]

31 January 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

[In the country]
Kuvitus [ill. by]:  Hannamari Ruohonen
Helsinki: Tammi, 2010. 64 p.
ISBN 978-951-31-4748-8
€9.50, hardback

There have been plenty of books for beginning readers with action-packed plots full of breathtaking twists and turns. Fortunately there are still books that leave room for a more ‘easy does it’ reading style. One of them is this, the sixth title in Tapani Bagge’s series about a girl called Kaisa. Kaisa travels to the countryside with her father and her father’s partner Sirkka. Their journey is overshadowed by the death of Kaisa’s grandmother, and the little girl believes that nothing at her grandma’s place will ever be the same again. Bagge’s extensive work on this material is evident in his spare, finely tuned prose. He portrays the grieving girl’s differing shades of emotion beautifully. Kaisa believes that her grandma has changed into a butterfly following her death. So the butterfly fluttering around in the attic needs to be saved – but this of course has further-reaching consequences…. Hannamari Ruohonen’s black-and-white illustrations provide a lovely depiction of care and protection in the family.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

Growing together. New Finnish children’s books

28 January 2011 | Articles

Hulda knows what she wants! From the cover of a new picture book by Markus Majaluoma (see mini reviews*)

What to choose? A mum or dad buys a book hoping it will be an enjoyable read at bedtime – adults presume a book is a ‘good’ one if they themselves genuinely enjoy it, but children’s opinions may differ. Päivi Heikkilä-Halttunen reviews the trends in children’s literature published in Finland in 2010, and in the review section we’ve picked out a handful of the best on offer

Judging by the sheer number and variety of titles published, Finnish children’s and young people’s fiction is alive and well. If I had to describe the selection of books published in 2010 in just a few words, I would have to point to the abundance of titles and subject matters, and the awareness of international trends.

Since 2000 the number of books for children and young people published in Finland each year – including both translated and Finnish titles – has been well in excess of 1,500, and increasing, and this growth shows no signs of slowing down.

Little boys, ten-year-olds who don’t read very much and teenage boys, however, were paid very little attention last year. Although gender-specificity has never been a requirement of children’s fiction, boys are notably pickier when it comes to long, wordy books, especially those that might be considered ‘girly’. More…

Maria Turtschaninoff: Underfors [Underville]

28 January 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Helsingfors: Söderströms, 2010. 342 p.
ISBN 978-951-52-2739-3
€16 , hardback

This highly original fantasy novel by the Swedish-speaking author Maria Turtschaninoff (born 1977) is evidence of the innovative thinking that Finnish authors for young people bring to the international fantasy genre, particularly the currently fashionable vampire and werewolf themes associated with the borderline between life and death. The protagonist, Alva, is an adopted teenage girl who has some black holes in her memory of early childhood. A young man called Nide leads Alva to a land situated beneath Helsinki, where Alva learns that she is the heir to the shadow king. This novel is teeming with goblins, sprites, kelpies, pixies and sorceresses. Events come to a head on Midsummer Night, when magic spells can come true. Underfors is a classic story of a person’s search for her identity: Alva constructs her shattered self using fragments she finds from her past. She is liberated from guilt, longing and her inexplicable anguish, but becoming free requires sacrifices and struggles with ethical issues.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

Riitta Jalonen & Kristiina Louhi: Aatos ja Sofia [Aatos and Sofia]

28 January 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Aatos ja Sofia
[Aatos and Sofia]
Kuvitus [ill. by]: Kristiina Louhi
Helsinki: Tammi, 2010. 36 p.
ISBN  978-951-31-5240-6
€14.30, hardback

Riitta Jalonen (born 1954) writes books for children and adults with the same emotional intensity. This picture book throws readers in alongside two children, Aatos and Sofia, to play in a sandpit. Aatos (or ‘Thought’, in Finnish) is a bit of a dreamer, while Sofia, who is slightly older, takes a more practical approach to life. As in her Tyttö (‘Girl’) trilogy, Riitta Jalonen uses an impressionistic mode of storytelling. Through a selection of brief, random scenes, Aatos ja Sofia tells the deeply personal story of a little boy’s fondness for his playmate. Kristiina Louhi’s bold, broad-brush illustrations have an almost hypnotic effect on the reader.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

Siri Kolu: Me Rosvolat [Me and the Robbersons]

27 January 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Me Rosvolat
[Me and the Robbersons]
Kuvitus [ill. by]: Tuuli Juusela
Helsinki: Otava, 2010. 222 p.
ISBN 978-951-1-24393-9
€13.80, hardback

Me Rosvolat by Siri Kolu (born 1972), winner of the Finlandia Junior prize, is a clever combination of the spirit of the Norwegian children’s classic When the robbers came to Cardamom Town by Thorbjørn Egner and the fashionable road movie genre. A ramshackle gang of robbers kidnaps ten-year-old Vilja, who is in the middle of a holiday with her family. The Robbersons like to pounce, Robin Hood-like, on petty bourgeois types who ‘think they’re just regular people, but who’ve got plenty of nice things, like a car, good eats and clothes.’ In a carnival style that appeals to children’s sense of justice – and is reminiscent of Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking – Kolu describes the Robberson family’s innocent-seeming raids on kiosks selling old-fashioned treats and the pick ‘n’ mix sections of video rental shops. Vilja and the Robberson family’s summer-long jaunt is filled with humour, sticky situations and thoughts on family relationships.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

Maria Turtschaninoff: Arra. Legender från Lavora [Arra. Legends from Lavora]

12 February 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Arra. Legender från Lavora
[Arra. Legends from Lavora]
Helsinki: Söderströms, 2009. 251 p.
ISBN 978-951-52-2604-4
19.90 €, hardback

Legender från Lavora by Maria Turtschaninoff (born 1977) is limpid and leisurely in tone, yet the story of Arra, a girl from a poor family, is intense, tragic and original. Because she is mute, Arra is thought to be feeble-minded, and thus of no value to her family. She becomes, in fact, an ‘invisible child’ – the author’s reference to neglected children of the present day. The girl uses a special power to compensate for the contempt of those around her: she binds herself in living connection with nature, which leads her in the end to glory and honour. Because of Arra’s long period of muteness as she enters her teens, dialogue is a very small portion of the book. The narrative may be challenging for young readers, but the vivid love story of Arra and Prince Surando has an irresistible, magical enchantment.

Tomi Kontio: Viidakon kutsu [The call of the jungle]

12 February 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Viidakon kutsu
[The call of the jungle]
Helsinki: Tammi, 2009, 240 p.
ISBN 978-951-31-5042-6
16.20 €, hardback

Poet and author Tomi Kontio’s book for young teenagers is a take-off of the boys’ adventure story and fantasy novel, a genre he has used in the past. But Kontio leads 12-year-old Alma and Alpo into the jungle… of eastern Finland – the backwoods of Kainuu, to be precise. There they meet the Vimbas, a tribe living in harmony with nature, who teach them many important lessons. Kontio succeeds in combining his two narrative talents: he doesn’t underestimate the value of lively and lyrical language to his target audience, and he entertains his readers with fabulations that mix the rational and the absurd into a cohesive whole. Viidakon kutsu is a portrait of a world that is considerably brighter than in Kontio’s previous books for young readers.

Jukka Laajarinne: Ruoalla ei saa leikkiä [Don’t play with your food]

5 February 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Ruoalla ei saa leikkiä
[Don’t play with your food]
Kuvitus [Ill. by]: Martti Ruokonen
Helsinki: WSOY, 2009. 60 p.
ISBN 978-951-0-35040-9
18.20 €, hardback

Jukka Laajarinne (born 1970) exercises his obsession with challenging authority again, stretching the boundaries of traditional children’s literature. It seems that becoming a father has made him wonder at the dominant role of food in everyday life: this book deals broadly with food, eating, and food culture. The impetus for the stories might be an ordinary figure of speech or adage that is taken apart and played with. For instance, King Midas, familiar from Greek mythology, who turned everything to gold with his touch, is transformed in Laajarinne’s retelling into a sticky-fingered kid who makes a mess of everything around him. Martti Ruokonen’s graphic illustrations are stark and even coarse in places, their colour choices and rounded forms reminiscent of visual images made for the first books for babies.

Maria Vuorio: Kiitollinen sammakko [The grateful frog]

5 February 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Kiitollinen sammakko

Kiitollinen sammakko ja muita satuja järviseudulta
[The grateful frog and other stories from the lake country]
Kuvitus [Ill. by]: Virpi Penna
Helsinki: Tammi, 2009. 111 p.
ISBN 978-951-31-5017-4
18.20 €, hardback

There is no need to categorise Maria Vuorio’s original yet tradition-conscious prose and poetry as being for readers of a particular age. A father and son, Aatos and Justus, are spending their vacation at a summer cabin. Justus rescues a frog from a well, setting in motion a chain of events that leads the boy to see the world through different eyes. The frog happens to be the king of the frogs, and wishes to reward Justus for his good deed. The stories are wonderful explorations of humble, reticent animals – a perch, a dragonfly, a spider, a crab, a mole. A bumblebee’s leg in a cast has probably never been described with such devotion before. Today, Finnish children’s relationship with nature is limited to the surroundings of the summer cabin. But Vuorio’s view of the relationship of child with nature is still a romantic one. Dazzled by the moonlight, Justus wonders to himself, ‘Why is there such beauty, if no one ever sees it?’

Who for? On new books for children and young people

29 January 2010 | Articles, Non-fiction

Secrets: an illustration by Aino-Maija Metsola from Minä ja Muro (‘Me and Muro) by Mari Kujanpää

Books have a tough time in their struggle for the souls of the young: more titles for children and young adults than ever before are published in Finland, all of them trying to find their readers. Päivi Heikkilä-Halttunen picks out some of the best and most innovative reading from among last year’s titles

Nine-year-old Lauha’s only friend and confidant is her teddy bear Muro, because Lauha is an outsider both at home and at school. The children’s novel Minä ja Muro (‘Muro and me’, Otava), which won the 2009 Finlandia Junior Prize, provoked discussion of whether it was appropriate for children, with its oppressive mood and the lack of any bright side brought into the life of the main character in its resolution. More…

Seita Parkkola: Usva [Mist]

29 January 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Kuvitus: [Ill. by] Jani Ikonen
Helsinki: WSOY, 2009. 375 p.
ISBN 978-951-0-35352-3
19.70 €, hardback

Usva, the 13-year-old protagonist of Seita Parkkola’s novel of the same name, is unusually tall. From her height, she can see farther and more clearly than other people. Usva is a coming of age story in a minor key, its melancholy underlined by Jani Ikonen’s dark black and white illustrations. The images ooze with romantic dereliction, run-down buildings, storm-driven tree limbs, fish on dry land gasping for air. The illustrations are a good example of the visual world brought to life by the success of Japanese manga. Parkkola aptly describes the painful aspects of puberty from the point of view of both the child and the parent. She adds an air of mystification to the age of 13, which she sees as a turning point between childhood and adulthood. The novel can be read as a vision of the near future, of the disintegration of societal support, the increasing fragility of parenthood. Childhood’s end arrives at an ever younger age, and adulthood is entered with a leap, eyes open, without parental support to guide a child into her own adulthood.

Mari Kujanpää: Minä ja Muro [Muro and me]

28 January 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Minä ja Muro
[Muro and me]
Kuvitus [Ill. by]: Aino-Maija Metsola
Helsinki: Otava, 2009. 207 p.
ISBN 978-951-1-23418-0
15.10 €, hardback

The heavy themes of this children’s novel, winner of the 2009 Finlandia Junior Prize, have provoked discussion of who its target audience should be. Lauha is a 9-year-old girl who is considered an oddball at school; her classmates claim that she smells bad. Within her own family she’s an outsider. Her little brother’s serious illness has troubled the family for a long time, and even when he gets better her parents don’t know how to listen to Lauha, and their negligence verges on physical violence. But playing with Muro, her teddy bear, eases Lauha’s troubles, and luckily she finds a soul sister in Heta, the new school intern. Mari Kujanpää (born 1976) uses language suitable for a child’s state of mind in a very creative way. Muro ja minä is difficult for a child to read on his/her own, and would work best read aloud and discussed in a group of children or as a book for adult caregivers. The black and white illustrations are by Aino-Maija Metsola (born 1983), whose previous work includes designing fabrics for Marimekko.

Juha Virta: Sylvi Kepposen pitkä päivä [Sylvia Prank’s long day]

3 March 2009 | Mini reviews

Sylvi Kepposen pitkä päiväSylvi Kepposen pitkä päivä
[Sylvia Prank’s long day]
Kuvitus [Ill. by]: Marika Maijala
Helsinki: Otava, 2008. 33 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-1-22373-3
€ 17, hardback

The long, narrow shape of this picture book is justified, as it literally gives the reader a clear perspective on its illustrations. Sylvi is a little girl whose legs one day grow so long that she is able to leap into space. Sylvi becomes a media phenomenon and the object of universal astonishment – until her legs return roughly to their former size. The book, by Juha Virta (born 1970) and his partner Marika Maijala (born 1974), owes much to nonsense writing and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, but the story and the pictures are an amazingly well-balanced combination, expressing humour, unceremonious wonder and a childlike ability to derive pleasure from moments of absurdity.

Esko-Pekka Tiitinen: Villapäät [Woollyheads]

3 March 2009 | Mini reviews

Helsinki: Tammi, 2008. 134 p.
ISBN 978-951-31-4397-8
€ 17, hardback

Amid the angst and tangled human relationships that seem to dominate juvenile books, Villapäät provides young readers with ideals and the clothes to go with them, but eschews a market-driven focus on the self. 15-year-old Timppa and his friends form a band, and soon The Woollyheads will be the star of a charity fundraising concert. The global crisis and selfless relief work acquire a human face when Timppa sees a video on the life of Henry Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross – the only ‘trauma’ Timppa himself suffered as a child was caused by swallowing a Lego block. An important subsidiary role is played by a perceptive teacher who channels the youth into a beneficial, creative hobby. Esko-Pekka Tiitinen (born 1945) was awarded the 2008 Finlandia Junior Prize for Fiction for this book, his 16th.