Earlier this week I brought you a classic Swedish illustrator and a book originally published over 100 years ago. As a foil to that, today I bring you a modern, prize winning Swedish author – Sven Nordqvist.
Born in 1946 Nordqvist originally trained as an architect before returning to his childhood dream of illustration with the publication of his first book, an alphabet book, in 1982. Three years later he published his first book in what has come to be an extremely popular series about a slightly eccentric farmer, Pettson, and his cat, Findus.
Winner of several prizes, including the Elsa Beskow Plaque (1989), The August Prize (2007) and the German Youth Literature Prize (1992), Nordqvist has seen his books published into many different languages from Hindi to Hungarian. Indeed, his Pettson and Findus books have been translated into English multiple times – originally as Festus and Mercury, and later retaining the original Swedish names Pettson and Findus.
And so it is to Pettson and Findus I turn now, with reviews of two books, Pancakes for Findus (one of the 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up) and When Findus was Little and Disappeared.
Pancakes for Findus takes place on Findus’ birthday.
Findus had three birthdays a year, because it was more fun that way. And every birthday, Pettson made him a pile of pancakes.
First he went to the hen house to collect a basket of eggs. Then he sat on the bench outside the kitchen and polished them. Pettson was a tidy man and he wanted them all clean and shiny.
So begins a hilarious story about Pettson, his chaotic life, and the lengths he’ll go to to ensure his beloved cat Findus can celebrate his birthday in style. One thing leads to another and before long baking the birthday pancakes has involved climbing over the shed roof, playing music to a bull, tying a curtain to Findus’ tail and adding that secret ingredient known as trousers to the pancake batter. Sound crazy? Well it certainly is, but it makes for a perfect recipe – both for a story and for pancakes.
When Findus was Little and Disappeared is another heart-warming, giggle-inducing testament to the loyalty and love between this original, offbeat farmer and his feline friend. In this tale within a tale we discover how the paths of Findus and Pettson first crossed (a kindly neighbour realises that old bachelor Pettson needs some company and donates one of her kittens), and yet how their friendship almost never was, for one day Findus disappears. Pettson is eventually able to find him on his ramshackle farm only with the help of some mysterious Muckles, friendly little creatures visible to the cat, but living invisibily on the farm as far as Findus is concerned.
The more detailed storytelling in both these funny books, full of Charlie Chaplin style comedy slapstick, was a huge hit with M and will appeal greatly to the 4-8 crowd (and their parents!), but the wonderful illustrations will ensure that this book can be enjoyed by everyone whatever their age.
There are hundreds of details to pour over and smile at. My kids love the disarray that inevitably seems to surround poor Pettson; draws falling open with their contents tumbling out, piles of washing up looking like they are only a breath away from crashing down (could it possible remind them of their own home..?) Virtually every page contains visual jokes; the bent hammer, the bedside cabinet on skis, the spare spectacles hung up among the cooking implements.
We particularly like the pages devoted to Pettson’s woodworking bench in his shed – absolutely crammed with delights, tools, junk, mess and reminding (in the very best possible way) the girls of their own grandpa’s workspace…
Apparently Nordqvist thinks “as much about carpentry as drawing and painting,” so it’s perhaps not surprising that Pettson’s workbench and tools are so lovingly drawn!
For their humour, warmth, mess and delightfulness both books come highly recommended from all our family. Indeed, we can’t wait to read more about Pettson and Findus, and fortunately two more stories are translated into English: Findus Goes Camping and Findus and the Fox
Tomorrow I’ll be back with a Swedish game we played having read Nordqvist’s books. In the meantime, do you have a favourite picture book set on a farm?