A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Flumbra and Alfie

   Several months ago I wrote about some of the differences between Scandinavian and American picture books. One of my favorite examples of the openness in Nordic children’s books is a delightful picture book from Iceland, Flumbra: An Icelandic Folktale by Gudrún Helgadóttir. Ari, a little boy in Iceland, worries about giants, who are known to live in the mountains and occasionally steal misbehaving human children. When he asks Pappa for a story about giants, he hears about Flumbra. This giantess of old falls in love with a giant from another mountain. After a raucous romance, she returns home and later is blessed with eight baby giants, whom she loves and cares for like any human mother might. By the end of the tale, Ari is reassured and we, the readers, have a new appreciation for both mountains and giants.

   This is the only American picture book I can think of with a breastfeeding mother depicted (even if she is a giant). Maybe the fact that it was published in 1986 has something to do with it. Was society more liberal then? Perhaps the publisher, Carolrhoda Books, was open to the story because at that time it was a relatively small press, located in Minneapolis, which is known for its Scandinavian roots.

   Here’s another little example of Scandinavian frankness in a photo I took in Stockholm the last time I was there. It’s from a display of well-known Swedish children’s authors in a fabulous museum called Junibacken, which is devoted entirely to the world of children’s books, stories, theater, and music. The character is Alfie Atkins, from the books by Gunilla Bergström, some of which have been published in English (as well as other languages).

   It’s meant to be humorous and not at all in bad taste. A joke – something like “B as in behind” or "B is for bottom" in English. Still, it’s not something you’re likely to see celebrated in a children’s museum display in the U.S!

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