Children’s books in spring: Against the idiots of the forest

Children’s books in spring: Against the idiots of the forest

Eva Lindström, Pija Lindenbaum and Enne Koens talk about resistance and self-assertion. Your new releases encourage you to say no.

Drawing: the boss is swinging in the hammock that is fixed between two trees

Drawing from Pija Lindenbaum: “The First Step” Photo: Klett children’s book

In “We are the kings of the forest, so to speak”, Eva Lindström, casually sketched with transparent overlaying watercolors, tells of a serious situation. Because at the meeting in the community hall, the two squirrels and their friend, the rabbit, were outvoted. Pro-hunting prevailed. So the silence in the forest will soon be over.

The squirrels love peace. They want to do gymnastics and sort their nuts in peace. On the following double pages, noisy hordes of hunters are already moving through the gloomy forest. A shot has already hit the rabbit in the ear. In front of the burning fireplace in their cozy dwelling, the squirrels carefully bandage the injured spoon.

Drawing: a gray hare and two red-brown squirrels are walking with their heads held high on a street around the corner of a house

Scene from Eva Lindstrom: “We are the kings of the forest, so to speak” Photo: Photo: Verlag Antje Kunstmann

The Swedish picture book artist Eva Lindström received the renowned Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) in 2022 for her oeuvre. Your ambiguous dialogues inspired the jury in picture and text. In her current picture book, too, the illustrator, who was born in 1952, subtly and humorously blurs the boundaries between human and animal life. The wolf trudges in blue boots after the mixed hunting party with a bear. A dog trotts away on four legs in front.

In intoxicating colors, Lindström creates idiosyncratic rooms and detailed landscapes, which she combines with a few expressive lines to create a multi-faceted narrative. Maike Dörries translated the short text very coherently from Swedish. The squirrels confidently defend their life plan and bravely counter: “This is how we think of the hunters: They are the idiots of the forest.”

Parable with curious staff

Creative resistance is also forming in “The First Step”, the most recent picture book by Pija Lindenbaum. For her parable about justice and arbitrariness, the illustrator and author, who lives in Stockholm, calls up a surprising scenario with strange personnel.

In the midst of an idyllic mountain landscape, the children of the marigold and primrose groups live in two large houses with red and green shutters. Girls and boys – all children have the same pot cut here. But while the marigolds do the greatest things – painting, sailing or playing croquet – the primroses have to peel potatoes, wash clothes or shine boots. The shepherdess decides how things go here – a bitch in anthropomorphic form with a long robe, whistle and the Hamburg ruff typical of pastors in the north.

Drawing, children with pot cuts and blue-grey smocks sit on the bench and have to clean dark red boots

Drawing from Pija Lindenbaum: “The First Step” Photo: Photo: Klett children’s book

The vast grounds, which appear like an enticing adventure playground, are bounded only by a white line. Nobody is allowed to cross it, otherwise lightning might strike. “We’re fine here on our side,” says the shepherd. “Or not?” Pija Lindenbaum describes the ambivalent conditions in strong colors, with wit and at eye level. She develops the contradictions in an exciting way from the narrative perspective of one of the happy Marigold children.

“Everything is fun here,” it says right away on the first few pages. The fact that this does not apply to everyone does not strike him at first. For a long time it has been secretly wearing a blue bracelet, although the children dressed in uniform are not allowed to wear it. But someday it casts doubt on the existing order. Unnoticed, the marigolds and primroses together turn the situation upside down one night. Shortly thereafter, the unpopular hair-cutting pot also disappears. The shepherd is slowly losing track here in the mountains.

Polder landscape in summer

In “This Summer with Jente”, the novel by the Dutch children’s book author Enne Koens, the flat polder landscape stretches to the endless horizon. The reduced gray and yellow illustrations by Martje Kuiper underline this economical environment atmospherically.

At the beginning of summer vacation Marie and her parents moved to a new housing estate built there. Here the streets are dead straight and the houses all look the same. Young families now live everywhere. Marie is heartbroken. She misses her old neighborhood and her best friend Zoé so much. But already on the second day she meets Jente.

The twelve-year-old is imaginative, fearless and wild. Soon the girls, who are so different, see each other every day, exploring their new territory, spying on the neighborhood or looking for a bog body. At Jente’s side, life suddenly seems adventurous and wild. However, this friendship is not reliable. Marie has to experience painfully how her new friend betrays her in a frenzy for social recognition.

“I arrived here as a pale couch potato. Back then I didn’t have to dare anything, because I didn’t know Jente back then,” Marie describes in the prologue about her own transformation over the past three months. Looking back, the girl in Enne Koen’s sensitive novel tells of this last summer of childhood. During this time, Marie learns with difficulty to recognize her own limits and to defend them with a no.

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