Book: The Tomten adapted by Astrid Lindgren from a poem by Viktor Rydberg, illustrated by Harald Wiberg
1990, G.P. Putnam’s Sons
It’s always difficult to go back to work or school after a holiday, especially when you have to get up in the dark. On Day 10 we have the story of the Tomten, who works all the winter night.
This version of The Tomten is another Swedish story, adapted by Astrid Lindgren from a poem by Viktor Rydberg.
Perhaps because it’s based on a poem, this is not a very plot-heavy book, but more about mood, mystery, repetition, description, and atmosphere.
The Tomten lives on an old farm. Every night he goes through the farmyard and the house, speaking to the animals and looking after them. To each animal he speaks a variation on a little poem about how Winters and Summers come and go.
The whole mood is a little melancholy. The Tomten seems a little lonely because he can’t speak to the humans in the house, and they will never see him, because he only comes out at night.The Tomten has seen many hundreds of winters, so it makes sense that he would have a good perspective for the animals who are longing for summertime. And he will carry on as long as there people at the farm for him to help.
This is a lovely book with evocative prose, and especially beautiful pictures of the snowy farm lit by brilliantly bright moonlight and snowlight.
It certainly makes me feel better about getting up in the cold and dark!
Book: The Mitten adapted and illustrated by Jan Brett
1989, G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Day 5 moves from Sweden to Ukraine. Jan Brett adapted a traditional tale about a boy named Nicki who wanted mittens made from wool as white as snow.
His grandmother, Baba, warns him that they will get lost in the snow. But she knits them for him and sure enough, he loses one in the snow when he goes out to play.
But the mitten looks so cozy and warm that a whole bunch of animals (including a mole, an owl, a badger, and a bear) that pass by decide to crawl inside. The Mitten stretches and stretches, but the last animal (a little mouse) is one too many. The bear sneezes and the Mitten shoots up into the sky.
The story is fairly simple, but the best thing about this book is the illustrations. All the pictures are surrounded by birchbark and embroidery in folk art patterns. To the left of the main picture we always see a smaller picture of what Nicki is doing (inadvertently scaring the animals towards the Mitten), and to the left we see the next animal coming along. They are very pretty illustrations, and full of fun little details.
Hopefully this story will inspire you to go play in the snow — or just seek out somewhere warm and cozy to eat something hearty and do some knitting.
Book: Peter and Lotta’s Christmas by Elsa Beskow
2002, Floris Books
Day 4 is Peter and Lotta’s Christmas. This book is by Swedish author Elsa Beskow. It’s about two children named Peter and Lotta who go to live with their aunts and uncle. While there they experience their first proper Christmas.
The story is actually quite long for a picture book and covers two Christmases and the year in between. On their first Christmas Peter and Lotta don’t know anything about the holiday or its customs, so they are very excited about the Christmas tree, getting gifts, etc. They are, however, very frightened by the Christmas Goat!
For anyone not familiar with the Christmas Goat or Yule Goat, you can read about it here. It is certainly nice to have a story which examines Christmas traditions which are somewhat different from the ones we usually see portrayed. Because Peter and Lotta don’t know that the Christmas Goat is actually just their Uncle Blue dressed up, they are told a fairytale which causes them to go on some interesting adventures over the next year.
By their second Christmas the children have learned a lot. They are no longer afraid of the Christmas Goat and learn who he is. However, they enjoy this Christmas even more than the first, because this year they got to give gifts as well as receive them.
Peter and Lotta’s Christmas is a real treat, especially for Elsa Beskow fans. It has her classic illustrations and lots of lovely details about rural Swedish life in this time period. Because of this it is not a quick read, and is a bit like the Little House on the Prarie Books in that it is a detailed depiction of daily life. The description of how the children made presents for their family is particularly nice.
As you can see from the illustration, Peter and Lotta have cake, saffron buns, and pepparkakor at Christmas. We only had some zimtsterne, which are not Swedish but have all the right spices, and really any gingerbread would do. Yule Goat is optional.