Astrid Lindgren, Barnen i Bullerbyn, Central Michigan University, children's stories, Clarke Historical Library, Colorful Hand Prints triology, international children's books, reading, Ronja Rövardotter, rumpnissar, story time, Swedish children's books, vildvittrorna
Part 1 out of 2 “Colorful Hand Prints.”
I waited for weeks. Whenever I went to the library – whether I was taking a short-cut to the University Center, going there to work or strolling to the coffee shop for a caffeine boost – I stared at the interior windows displaying children’s book and beautiful pictures from children’s stories and fairy tales. The Clarke Historical Library has always had interesting exhibits, but this one has grabbed my attention more than anyone else. I think it started when one day, I passed one of the windows – in a hurry, per usual – realized what I’d just seen, stopped and turned around. Several printed lines shimmered in the light, repeating the same thing in different languages: “Read a book to me.” One of the lines was in Swedish: “Läs en bok till mig.”
Since then, I checked if they were officially open as often as my schedule allowed me. When they finally completed the exhibit and opened their doors, I came by twice, checking the titles, admiring the pictures and searching for the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren whose stories had a huge impact on me as a child, as a reader and as a writer. (The second time I came by to take photographs; you can check out the album here.) If you ever ask me what made me want to become a published author, I’ll tell you it was J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that finalized that decision. However, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always been writing. When I was younger, I wrote short stories and poems, drew maps, made up my own games, put together my own magazines and bound my own books. Some of them were spell books, because I was really into magic and fantasy growing up. Others were instruction books on how to train your Pokemon or how to maneuver your way in the woods without getting caught by trolls, witches and what have you.
I probably should mention this: I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere and my family owned land which consisted mostly of woodsy areas. It’s no surprise that I found stories taking place in the woods compelling. Although, to be perfectly honest, there were times I found the forest frightening, but usually only at night, because one of my greatest fear as a child was that whatever hid behind the trees and beneath the rocks would eventually find a way to get inside our house. On at least one occasion, on a night I couldn’t sleep, (I might have been seven years old or so) I thought I saw a person sneaking around in our kitchen. My bedroom was across the hall and I saw her through my open door: an elderly woman dressed in all black, with a hunchback, yellow eyes and tangled, gray hair. Some sort of witch, I thought. At one point, she turned and glared directly at me. Looking back at that memory, I think that maybe my eyes played a trick on me or perhaps I was really asleep and dreamed about the witch. But the point I guess I’m trying to make here is that one of the reasons why Lindgren became such a successful author was because she could take childhood scares like mine and portray them so well in her stories. And no matter how bad things got, the children in those stories found a way to get back to safety; it was ever better when they also beat the monsters.
At the exhibit, I couldn’t find any Swedish books at all, only some copies by this Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Over a week later, I visited the exhibit a third time and asked the people working there (really nice folks BTW) why they had so few books from Scandinavia. They explained that while they have other world literature in stock, the books on display are solely those that have been donated by Francis and Mary Lois Molson. One guy named Bryan was especially helpful and brought all the Swedish children’s books they had. In total, they have 32 books in the back; that includes the young adult ones, but I didn’t take a look at those.
I had a lot fun skimming through the volumes and two books I recognized: Ronja Röverdotter and Barnen i Bullerbyn (Ronja Robber’s Daughter and The Children in *Buller-Village [?]). Here’s the thing that made my trip: Bryan told me they are going to hold a reading in a couple of weeks, and they’re looking for people to read at least book in the language it was originally written in.
So on Tuesday, April 7, I am going to be one of the people reading a children’s book in a language the audience probably won’t understand. Don’t worry, though; afterward, we briefly summarize what the story was about and translate the message behind it. The time slots for the event are 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. If you’re interested, you should stop by the library on that day. I’m not sure what time I’m going to read yet, but I’m excited. [Update: CMU Radio’s article on the event.]
Side note: The story about Ronja Rövardotter contained many strange creatures – some of them dangerous, some of them plain annoying – but to give you an idea how interesting Lindgren’s creations were, here are “Vildvittrorna” (roughly trans: “the wild withers”), and “rumpnissarna” (trans: … [unavailable]).