Did you hear this fascinating radio programme last Monday, What the Scandinavians know about Children’s Literature, presented by Mariella Frostrup (Radio 4)? She discussed Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren), the Moomin stories (Tove Jansson), The Wild Baby (Babro Lindgren and Eva Eriksson), and also work by Elsa Beskow and Gro Dahle. The Scandinavian approach, with it’s strongly expressive authors and illustrators, has the voice of the child at it’s centre. The books are for the pleasure of the child.
Anarchic and free Pippi Longstocking came out in 1945, with a promise of a better future. The 9 year old character lives all alone, with no mum or dad, which is quite nice because there is no one to tell her when to go to bed... Lauren Child illustrated a recent version, and she explains how Pippi is a sassy adventuress with independence and endless money, which is a wonderful fantasy for a child (and adult, too).
The Wild Baby has a very tired and worn out mother, but the baby is never punished for his pranks and the mother always comes to hug him and play with him afterwards.
The author Frank Cottrell-Boyce talked about how unusual The Moomins are, because the parents haven’t been killed off, and the whole family goes off on adventures. While there are no baddies, there is a huge emphasis on quiet, maybe born out of the long winters, dark nights and strong story-telling tradition.
Scandinavian children’s stories tend to be full of good heart and bad behaviour, dealt with in a non-sermonising way. There are no cute animals wearing clothes. Difficult subjects, like abuse, are explored too, in books and animations such as The Angry Man (Gro Dahle and Sven Nyhus).