I read it in a single sitting late at night, and on Tuesday, I dropped everything and read the entire novel to the kids, over breakfast, lunch and dinner. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a novel twice in under 24 hours, but this book is very, very special, and one I want to shout about from the rooftops.
Perfect for fans of Pippi Longstocking, Waffle Hearts (translated by Guy Puzey, with illustrations by Kate Forrester) is a heartbreaking, heartmaking, hilariously funny tale in true Scandanavian style. Complete with unruly pigtails, a lovable horse, an honest, sensitive exploration of death, loss and grief, and tremendously warm-hearted, solid, reassuring (though far from conventional) families, Waffle Hearts is both bold and brilliant.
Two young friends in a small Norwegian fjord-side village have the of freedom to play outside and explore things for themselves, learning about love, friendship and loyalty as well as the fire-extinguishing properties of cow-muck, the advantages of looking young and cute when busking on the recorder, and the benefits of having (repeated) concussion! It opens dramatically with a high wire act that immediately grabs your attention, and within just a few sentences you’re laughing out loud; I don’t know if books which also cause you to sob are eligible for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, but I if I had anything to do with it I’d certainly be submitting this joyous, raucous, very, very funny story for consideration.
My love affair with this book started the second I first saw it. It is so beautifully produced; a clothbound hardback, with stylish silhouette illustrations (at the start of each chapter). You just know from the covers, it’s going to be one of those books which also smells very good.
Then there’s the authentic and touching, sometimes complicated, sometimes so easy and natural friendship between the children which forms the core of this story. Young listeners everywhere will be able to identify with the struggles and delight friendship can bring. Indeed, I think this would make an excellent class read-aloud for 7-9 year olds in particular.
The smattering of Norwegian culture is interesting and lovely. Kids will certainly learn a little bit about Norway, but they will ultimately feel Mathildewick Cove, the setting for most of Waffle Hearts, is somewhere they too could live (indeed M, J and I want to move there right now). Guy Puzey has created an excellent translation, utterly idiomatic, smooth and melodious, with some very clever solutions to linguistic problems.
This really is a tremendous book, with everything I could hope for in a book to share with my children; beauty, wit, wisdom, joy, thoughtfulness and a lot of fun. It’s won awards in Norway and the Netherlands, and it deservers to win many more. I do hope Parr’s second novel, ‘Tonje Glimmerdal’ gets translated too.
Whilst I read to the children, they spontaneously started acting out the story. First they made a witch to go on the midsummer bonfire (a Norwegian tradition around which an early chapter revolves).
Later on there’s a wickedly funny episode where the children in Mathildewick Cove try to emulate Noah and his ark, by seeing how many animals they can fit on a boat. M’s bed doubled up as our ark, and soon it was stuffed with all the animals we could find.
I’ve never before read an entire novel to my girls in one day, but it was a magical experience for us all. We ended our journey to Norway with hot chocolate (although coffee would have been more authentically Norwegian) and waffles (admittedly of the Dutch variety, rather than Norske vafler), and with a feeling of great treasure inside us now, thanks to Parr, Puzey and Forrester.
Waffle Hearts has been such a success in its native Norway that it has been turned into a TV programme. Once you’ve read the book, you can really enjoy the trailer (no need for any understanding of Norwegian!) here: http://nrksuper.no/super/vaffelhjarte/musikkvideo/.
What’s REALLY EXCITING is that you can meet Maria Parr on 16 November in London at Kings Place. where she will be talking about Waffle Hearts. Find out more here.
So, don’t delay – get Waffle Hearts today! It might just be for you, like I’m pretty certain it will be for us, a childhood defining book.
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.