The Tomten and the Fox is a book I waited for. I waited for two months to get it through a different branch of my county’s library system. It took me five minutes to read. Even taking my time, I don’t think I could stretch this book into more than five minutes. It makes me smile to think of how long I waited vs. how much actual time I needed the book. Yes, it was worth it.
This book is from a poem by Karl-Erik Forsslund but adapted by Astrid Lindgren with pictures by Harald Wiberg, the same illustrator as the original Tomten book.
One thing I found interesting about this book is how in the beginning, there is narration but below the narration there are commands written to the fox, whose name is Reynard. (That’s what I always name my foxes. ) It’s an interesting voice for the book to have – the narrator is telling us a story and communicating with the fox at the same time but separately.
This book has inspired a lot of art. I recommend doing a Google Image search for “Tomten and the Fox” just to see all the crafts that have been created.
My favorite line comes near the end, when the hungry fox has found food and made friends with the Tomten: “It is a night for foxes and tomtens.”
The final picture of the fox walking off into the woods is haunting. Yes, it is a night for foxes and tomtens.
This is a ridiculously delightful short story. Reading this book totally reaffirmed to myself why I am doing this project. I never would have read it without this project. I’m so glad I did.
First of all, I was totally shocked: I hadn’t researched this book at all and had no idea that its original title was Titta, Madicken, det snoar!. MADICKEN! This is about Madicken and her little sister!
Madicken is a series about a little girl who is hilarious and gets into all kinds of trouble. The first book was translated into English as Mischievous Meg. It was also translated as Mardie. (Yeah, this girl has three names associated with her – move over Kalle/Bill, Lotta/Polly and Rasmus/Eric!) I am in the middle of reading the Madicken books and will post about them later. Bottom line: Madicken is a quirky, fun, wonderful character. I adore her. And finding that this book is not just a random picture book but a story about Madicken’s world was so incredibly exciting.
I know, I need to get out more.
The Runaway Sleigh Ride focuses more on Mardie’s little sister Elizabeth (who, in other translations is known as Betsy and Lisbeth, because translators!). That was really cool, because the Madicken series focuses on, well, Madicken/Mardie/Meg. It was nice to read a story about Elizabeth/Betsy/Lisbeth.
The book was published in 1983. No translator is listed. The pictures are by Ilon Wikland who just can’t be praised enough for her work. (I think I have referred to Ilon as a male in the past. Surprise! Ilon is a female. And an awesome one.) Check out this beautiful picture of Elizabeth/Betsy/Lisbeth. This picture of the picture doesn’t do it justice. Ilon is so great.
And it’s not just the pictures — the story is fantastic. It starts with Mardie and Elizabeth enjoying a beautiful snow from their window and then playing in it with their dad. Mardie gets sick the next day so Elizabeth goes alone with Alva (Alma in some translations) to town for Christmas shopping. While there, Elizabeth ends up on the back of a sleigh which takes off. The man driving the sleigh sings a song about getting drunk which even includes the word damn, which seems super risque for a kids book, but it’s a reminder that we all ought to loosen our corsets a little. Elizabeth wanders the woods while her family freaks out. She eventually gets a ride to her house where only Mardie is(everyone else is out looking). Elizabeth inhales all the food in the house and tells of her adventures.
I love this: Then Mardie comes up to her again and gives her another hug.
“You are a horrid child! But I like you anyway.”
Brenda Brave Helps Grandmother was published in 1958 as Kajsa Kavat Hjalper Mormor. Pictures are by Ilon Wikland and it was “adapted from the original” by Kay Ware and Lucille Sutherland . . . I’m gonna guess they were the translators? Hard to say for certain. The book I have is from 1961 and translators are often not listed from that era.
This is a Christmas story of the time when Grandmother got hurt just before Christmas and Brenda had to take over. Brenda does the cooking, cleaning, decorating, and selling of treats all by herself.
It’s one of Lindgren’s shortest works. It’s not particularly witty or a must-read. It’s just a short, simple book about a girl who isn’t a total bum. For some totally inexplicable reason, there is a movie about Brenda Brave. How this book can be made into a DVD stocked by my library system but no one in America knows Bill Bergson or Emil is beyond me. The movie looks awful; I have requested it be sent to my library.
A Calf for Christmas (originally Nar backhultarn for till stan, 1951) was translated by Barbara Lucas and illustrated by Marit Tornqvist.
This book tells the story of Johan and his family who have just lost their only cow. They are very poor and losing Emma the cow is a huge deal for them. The local rich guy, on the other hand, has no such misfortune and comes to town to buy a calf. He gets tipsy on the way home and the calf ends up in the ditch where Johan finds her and brings her home. Johan’s father insists on finding its owner, but in the end they can keep the calf. It’s a good lesson on what to do when we find something that isn’t ours and it’s a good lesson on charity.
A Calf for Christmas is a cute story with a happy ending and absolutely gorgeous pictures by Tornqvist. Her style is well-suited to the farm stories (she also illustrated The Day Adam Got Mad/Goran’s Great Escape).
Favorite line: And Johan’s dad spent the whole morning trying to explain to his son that God has other things to do than sit around throwing calves down into country ditches.
Lotta’s Christmas Surprise (in Swedish, Visskt kan Lotta nastan allting, 1977) lists no translator. It’s a pleasant Christmas story about Lotta’s family and the tree shortage in town. Lotta and her siblings Jonas and Maria are incredibly upset that they might not have a Christmas tree. In her usual way, Lotta explores the town and happens upon a Christmas tree.
I have grown to really appreciate Lotta. Her books are frustrating in that they have been released under so many titles. This book was once titled Of Course Polly Can Do Almost Anything. There are multiple editions of most Lotta books, which makes figuring them out really difficult — but they’re so worth it. It’s incredible how Lindgren has captured the joys and sorrows and foibles of such a young child.
One recurring character I’ve enjoyed is Teddy – or, in other Lotta translations, Bamsie Bear – a stuffed pig. I prefer the translation to be Bamsie Bear, because it’s sillier. I wish I knew what the Swedish name for Bamsie Bear/Teddy/the pig is.
This pretty much sums up Lotta’s attitude on everything: “You can come along,” she said to Teddy. “We’ll take the sled and have some fun, even though we’re all miserable.”
Christmas in the Stable (Jul i Stallet 1961), was illustrated by Harald Wiberg in the version I read, though it appears there have been other illustrators. The layout of the story is interesting, because it is a story of a mother telling her daughter a story about Christmas. We never even learn the child’s name; in fact she barely appears in the story. Lindgren has employed this story-within-a-story technique before (Ghost of Skinny Jack comes to mind), but it’s particularly well-done here. Instead of being just another story about Christmas, it has become a story about someone telling a story about Christmas.
It is a very short and utterly inoffensive book.
Favorite line: “There was a Christmas long ago and far away,” she [the mother] said, but the child did not know about long ago and far away. She knew only their own farm and a few yesterdays.
Pippi har julgransplundring, published in 1950, was translated to English by Stephen Keeler and illustrated by Michael Chesworth. It feels like a chapter’s worth of Pippi story from the novels, but is a stand-alone book.
In this story, Pippi throws a party for all the children of Villekulla. She invites them all over to hang out in her igloo and eat sweets in true Pippi form. She befriends a poor friendless boy named Elof and ends up adopting a dog named Perk.
They slide off the roof, dance around the tree, sing songs (“We three kings of Orient are, one on a bicycle, two in a car . . .”), and distribute gifts. Pippi’s generosity towards fellow children is shown time and time again, especially in her interactions with Elof.
My favorite conversation: “Just think, Pippi,” said Tommy, “Now you’ve got a dog and a horse and a monkey at Villa Villekulla.”
“Yes. All that’s missing now is a crocodile and a couple of small rattlesnakes,” said Pippi contentedly.