More Finnish children’s books

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Today’s post is about signposting you to more children’s books either by Finnish authors / illustrators or with Finnish themes. Perhaps you’re simply curious about children’s literature from another part of the world. Or maybe at some point this year Finland will be in the headlines (for example because the Finnish city of Turku is joint European City of Culture in 2011) and you’ll want to find some books to read with your kids to complement learning about Finland. Either way, this post will provide you with some starting points, and hopefully whet your appetite for Finnish children’s literature.

I haven’t read all the books mentioned in today’s post (although in researching this post I’ve added lots of books to my wishlist!), and the list is certainly not exhaustive – rather I’ve tried to highlight some of the best Finnish books out there, using various reference works and recommendations to guide me in my selection.

A to Zoo: Subject Access to Children’s Picture Books lists The Princess Mouse by Aaron Shepard, illustrated by Leonid Gore (and no other books) under the heading for Finland.

Based on the Finnish folktale The Forest Bride, the full (but unillustrated) text is available on Aaron Shepard’s website. Booklist says “Shepard’s charmingly droll version of a Finnish folktale combines classic elements with unexpected, witty details–among them, an outspoken mouse who sings a little song in the story (lyrics and melody appended). The jewel-toned art has beautiful luminescence; the elongated, somewhat blocky look of the characters reinforces the fantasy; and the mice are downright irresistible.”

Outside In, a UK based organisation dedicated to promoting and exploring world literature and children’s books in translation is a great place to visit to find information on children’s books in English, originally written in other languages. It’s possible to search by age and country of origin and is a wonderful resource!

The two picture books (for slightly older children) listed in Outside In’s Finnish section are
Who Will Comfort Toffle? by Tove Jansson, and Tundra Mouse Mountain by Riita Jalonen, illustrated by Kristiina Louhi.

We have Tundra Mouse Mountain here at home and it is a lovely, quietly beguiling story full of little details about Finland and Northern Norway, rock art, memories and a special road trip shared by a mother and daughter to beautiful places in this remote part of the world. Definitely worth tracking down a copy!

1001 Children’s Books You Must Read before You Grow Up (ed. Julia Eccleshare, 2009) includes several Finnish books but only those by Tove Jansson have been translated into English:

  • Tove Jansson – Comet in Moominland (1946), The Magician’s Hat (1948), The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My (1952), The Summer Book (1972)
  • Elina Karjalainen – Uppo the Bear (1977); Age: 3+, not available in English translation
  • Anna-Liisa Haakana – My One-legged Friend and Me (1980); Age: 12+, not available in English translation
  • Sinikka and Tiina Nopola – Hayflower and Quiltshoe (1989), Rupert the Rapper and Aunt Deep Freeze (2001); Age: 8+, not available in English translation, although a film has been made of Hayflower and Quiltshoe with an English translation
  • Tomi Kontio – Father Grew Wings in Spring (2000); Age: 8+, not available in English translation
  • Aino Havukainen and Sami Toivonen – Tatu and Patu in Helsinki (2003); Age 3+, not available in English translation although the same team have written This is Finland, which has been translated and is available on Amazon. Another book in this series, Tatu ja Patu supersankareina (‘Tatu and Patu as superheroes’) was the most popular children’s book in Finland in November 2010!
  • Asko Sirkiä – Constable Sniffler (2003); Age: 5+, not available in English translation
  • Riitta Jalonen and Kristiina Louhi – The Girl and the Jackdaw Tree (2004); Age: 5+, translated into French and German but not English. However Tundra Mouse Mountain (see above, highlighted by Outside In) is by the same author/illustrator pair.
  • Here’s a selection of Finnish authored/illustrated/themed books that have received good reviews on Amazon:

    North Wind Books at Finlandia University (based in Michigan, US, but happy to ship worldwild) sells a good selection of both Finnish children’s books in translation and also children’s literature on Finnish-American themes.

    A great place to find out about the latest books and book news from Finland (for kids and adults alike) is in the online literary journal, Books from Finland. Click here to go to all their articles about children’s books.

    The Finnish Literature Society has a very useful database on Finnish books (again, for both adults and children) which have been translated into other languages (not just English). A search for Finnish picture books translated into English between 2000 and 2007 lists 46 books!

    A roundup of Finnish children’s books wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Mauri Kunnas a well regarded and prolific author and illustrator best known for his anthropomorphic animals, that in the early days were likened to the illustrations of Richard Scarry. His most famous children’s book series, Koiramäki (Dog Hill), is set in historical Finland, and one book from this series, The Doghill Kids Go to Town, has been translated into English. Click here for an interesting article about Mauri Kunnas from This is Finland .

    Other well regarded illustrators from Finland include those below. Many of these have books translated into German and other languages, but translations into English are not common – I’ve noted where I’ve been able to find English translations.

    Timo Parvela, Salla Savolainen, Taruliisa Warsta, Petra Heikkilä,
    Anne Peltola (who has an excellent website in English, and one book translated into English – Boing Boing), Mervi Lindman, Markus Majaluoma, Leena Lumme, Maikki Harjanne, Virpi Talvitie, Hannu Taina, Rudolf Koivu, Linda Bondestam – as well as having a great website in English, Linda studied at Illustration at Kingston University (UK) and Katri Kirkkopelto

    FInally, a few other interesting links:

  • Illustrators in Finland – mostly in Finnish
  • IBBY Finland – in Finnish, although once a year they publish a magazine, Virikkeitä, in English as well as Finnish
  • The Finnish Institute for Children’s Literature
  • Just for fun – a gingerbread Moomin house!
  • The blog of Owen F. Witesman – a translator of books from Finnish
  • My thanks to Laura Norris for help in compiling this information.

    Have you or your kids read any books from Finland? If not, of all those that have been mentioned in the past two weeks on Playing by the book, which has caught your eye in particular?

    16 Responses

    1. Even in Australia

      I am so U.S. and British-centric, it’s a bit shameful. But I have a U.S. and British-centric question: do Finns (and other Europeans) read a lot more American and English (picture) books than we read Finnish books? Are there many more translations going from English to European languages rather than the other way around? Or is this guess simply a result of my misguided provincialism?

      • Zoe

        Hi Rachel,
        I can only talk with any authority about translations into Dutch but things for the Dutch market may well hold true to some extent for the Finnish situation. In the UK(and US) about 1% of all fiction published every year is translated. On the continent it varies – in France I’ve seen a figure of around30%, and I can imagine the situation in the Netherlands is that an even higher % of books are translated (simple because they are a smaller country with fewer speakers of the language). So in general terms the Dutch (and other non Brit Europeans) read much more in translation than the US/UK. And whilst I would say yes, the Dutch (Finnish) read many more American/English books than we do, they also read many more books translated from other languages. In the Netherlands it’s very easy to pick up a kids’ books translated from German, any of the Nordic languages or French – it’s not seen at all as unusual. In fact my (Dutch) husband is proving to be a great source of info for Reading Round Europe as he’s able to make loads of great suggestions about authors I should look out for from different countries – because they are author’s he read as a child, but which I often haven’t heard of because they either haven’t been translated into English or simply aren’t as well known here.

    2. Storied Cities (Erica)

      Although we have read loads of Swedish picture books, I’ve read almost no Finnish ones. I am so glad now to have a big long list via your posts. Thanks for all your careful research.

      • Zoe

        Hi Erica,

        I’m not surprised that you’ve read more Swedish picture books – there are simply many MANY more Swedish kids’ books translated into English than Finnish ones. I don’t know if this is because Sweden has a bigger kidlit tradition, or whether Swedish publishers have better links with English language publishers, or why… but for every 1 Finnish book available in English I reckon there must be 10 Swedish ones!

    3. Concetta at Glittering Shards

      Ah thanks for this post. We have spent a lot of time in Finland and have two of the books mentioned here 🙂 It is such a beautiful country. And I love the idea on the latest post of acting out the story – great pom poms!

    4. Zoe

      How funny, Concetta – I had no idea that you had links to Finland but glad to hear you have some of these books already. Next time you’re in Finland perhaps you can let me know if you find any other translations I’ve missed.

    5. Petra

      Thank you for the post. It is always great to see some good non-english authors. We love Mauri Kunnas in our house (although we have the german translations).

      • Zoe

        Hi Petra, yes, quite a few Finnish books are translated into German – certainly more than into English.

    6. lisainberlin

      I was gorging on your blog recently and was so excited to see your articles about Finnish books but maybe since I was reading on an iphone I missed the bit about Tatu and Patu.I adore Tatu and Patu! Thanks to your link to Witeman’s website I know which titles are available in English. I have 3 of their books in German and they are hilarious. I feel a little embarassed since I thought I was the only English speaking person who ever heard about them! Thankyou for creating this blog! I will check it regularly! Lisa in Berlin

      • Zoe

        Hi Lisa, it’s really great to have you comment – so much appreciated. Especially good to find another fan of international picture books. If you like this blog, you might also enjoy – Jules also has a particular interest in picture books from around the world.

    7. lisainberln

      Yes, I am a big fan of Jules. With yours I have four blogs I am addicted to (sighing happily).

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