posted in: Elsa Beskow | 10

As we continue Reading Round Europe my first offering from Sweden is by a classic, much loved (and widely translated) author/illustrator, Elsa Beskow.

Born in 1874 Elsa Beskow published 40 odd books in her lifetime, many featuring children exploring fairy tale worlds where respect for nature plays a major role. She is credited with having been the first author to bring Swedish children’s literature to an international readership and her books are nowadays particularly popular with followers of Steiner and Waldorf education methods.

Two of Elskow’s books feature in 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before you Grow Up, Peter in Blueberry Land and Children of the Forest (Tomtebobarnen in Swedish, a word I just love the look and sound of!) and it is the latter I bring you a review of today.

A family of forest people live under the curling roots of an old pine tree, deep in a forest. They go about their lives playing, exploring, observing nature and overcoming danger and the book follows their simple and happy lives through the course of the four seasons. They make friends with frogs, fight (and kill) a snake, collect mushrooms, harvest cotton grass and feed their animal friends when the snow comes. Their life is almost carefree and idyllic, in harmony with nature and their surroundings.

Children of the Forest

The original Swedish text was written in rhyme, but this has not been retained in the English version. Perhaps this was a wise decision, for the text certainly never feels like it is a translation. One of my favourite quotes is “They paddled and splashed in the stream, damming it to build a water mill. No one card how wet or muddy they were for no child of the forest can catch cold“. This made me think of the forest kindergarten movement, a type of preschool education which is held almost exclusively outdoors.

The illustrations will delight you if you like Beatrix Potter or Jill Barklem. They are the perfect mix of reality (in so many details, such as the mottling on the silver birch bark used as a shield by the father of the family) and fantasy (pint sized people, trolls and fairies). There is nothing modern, avant garde or unsettling about them, which may make them seem quite quaint after a diet of 21st century illustration. But if you can let go of your modern sensibilities Beskow illustrates a magical world that I think many of us would enjoy entering in to.

Children of the Forest ends with the lines:

A new year was beginning in the forest and this is where we must leave the children. But if you like, think about them and their forest friends, and that way, their story will never end.

And for us this was certainly a story which didn’t end when we closed the cover of the book: M and J couldn’t wait to act out their own version of Children of the Forest!

First we set about making mushroom hats like those the children of the forest wear. A balloon, flour and water mix, lots of strips of paper and waterproof gloves (M in particular hates having “gloopy” things on her skin) all went into the mix to create hats with just the right shape.

After 3 or 4 layers of papier mache were dry the girls painted the hats to look like fly agaric mushrooms. Once the paint was dry and the balloons popped I cut out the bottoms of the hats taking care to make the holes the same size as the girls’ heads. To hold the hats in place I just added elastic straps.

In one scene in Children of the Forest the kids can be found sheltering under a large mushroom.

We made ours out of a giant cardboard roll (liberated from a carpet shop) and an umbrella!

Children of the Forest: *** (3 out of 3 stars) – Elsa Beskow is a classic and if you don’t know her work you should definitely track down some of it.

Music we listened to whilst making our hats and playing under our mushroom included:

  • The Electric Banana Band – a Swedish children’s music/rock music band formed as long ago as 1977. We’ve been rocking to Kamelont in particular (you can see it for free here on YouTube)

  • Frifot – a band of well respected Swedish musicians who play both traditional and contemporary folk music. There’s some great stuff of theirs on YouTube here and here (and it creates an atmosphere that goes much better with Children of the Forest than the music from The Electric Banana Band!)

  • Väsen – an acoustic trio from Sweden. Here they are playing live – do check out the Nyckelharpa, a hurdy gurdy like instrument that is unique to Sweden:
  • And of course some Abba… just because!

  • Alongside reading Children of the Forest you could also…

  • Check out BiblOdyssey’s Elsa Beskow post for high quality images of her illustrations for Putte i blåbärsskogen

  • Visit Floris Books – the Edinburgh based publisher of Elsa Beskow books

  • Click here for Swedish language site about Elsa Beskow with lots of illustrations
  • Drool over this lovely felted forest family from Etsy maker Nushkie, this set of crockery from Bella Luna Toys or these forest people folk from Myriad (scroll to the bottom of the page).

  • Try drying your own mushrooms, just like they do in Children of the Forest – because mushrooms are so soft I can imagine this would be a manageable and unusual threading activity for small hands.

  • What Elsa Beskow books have your read? What would you recommend we look for next?

    10 Responses

      • Zoe

        Thanks for your kind words Carrie! I have to say, since having the kids I surprise myself quite a lot of the time – they’re the best inspiration for previously unknown abilities in patience and creativity!

      • Zoe

        Hi Stephanie’s Mommy Brain,
        I think it’s a book we’ll all remember – we’ve had so much fun with it 🙂

      • Zoe

        Hello Welcome to our wonderland! So pleased you’ve found Playing by the book 🙂

    1. abbie

      LOVE those hats. So fun. The pictures in that book are just adorable and that last line is precious. Looks like your girls are really enjoying themselves.

    2. Zoe

      Ha ha Susan! Oh my children can look quite cute when they want to. Unfortunately since these photos were taken we’ve had a bout of vomiting and diarrhoea so they’ve been looking far less adorable. They’ve had a quite night last night tho, so I’m hoping that means we’re through the worst and back on track for looking lovely and having lots of fun.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    CommentLuv badge

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.