A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
AUGUST 9:

  • Happy birthday Seymour Simon (Weather), Jose Aruego (Leo the late Bloomer; Gregory, the Terrible Eater), Patricia C. McKissack (Mirandy and Brother Wind, The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural).
  • It’s the birth date of Izaak Walton (1593-1683) The Compleat Angler and P. L. Travers (1899-1996), Mary Poppins.
  • In 1173, construction begins on what will become the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Read The Diary of Melanie Martin: Or How I survived Matt the Brat, Michelangelo, and the Leaning Tower of Pizza by Carol Weston, and Galileo’s Leaning Tower Experiment by Wendy Macdonald, illustrated by Paolo Rui.
  • In 1483 the Sistine Chapel in Rome opens with the celebration of a Mass. Read Michelangelo by Diane Stanley and The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo.
  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau is published on this day in 1854. Read Thoreau at Walden by John Porcellino, illustrated by D. B. Johnson, and Walden Then and Now by Michael McCurdy.
  • In 1945, an atomic bomb is dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Read Mop, Moondance, and the Nagasaki Knights by Walter Dean Myers.

If you spent your childhood in Europe, particularly Scandinavia or England, you will be more familiar with the books of the day than if you grew up in the United States. Unfortunately, these gems have never gained the popularity in America that they enjoy abroad. And American children are poorer because of that.

Born on August 9, 1914, Tove Jansson, a Swedish-speaking Finnish novelist, grew up in an artistic family in Helsinki. As someone who studied art and design, she worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for a variety of magazines. Right at the end of the Second World War, Jansson began publishing a series of books about her most successful cartoon characters—the Moomins. Depressed by the events of the war, Jansson chose to write about an idealized, harmonious family of furry, rotund trolls who look a bit like hippopotami—Moomintroll, Moominpappa, and Moominmamma. They love and support each other completely. Functional mothers are rarer than they should be in children’s fiction; certainly Moominmamma emerges as one of the best.

In the first volume, Comet in Moominland, Moomintroll and his best friend Sniff, sensing that an approaching comet threatens their peaceful valley, set out to visit an observatory to find out what is going on. Along the way, Moomintroll falls in love with the beautiful Snork Maiden, and they discover that water has been disappearing from the earth, placing the world in distress. Scandinavian critics often focus on the political content of these stories. The comet serves as a metaphor for the threat of a nuclear war; the disruption of the weather and the natural landscape can be viewed as ecological imbalance on our planet. Although these deeper issues underscore the text, this story works completely as an adventure saga that keeps readers turning the pages to see what will happen when the comet strikes the earth on October 7.

Jansson treats everything with an amazingly light touch. She excels in exploring childhood emotion and fantasy. So many eccentric and unusual creatures populate her fantasy world that readers long to go back and visit them again and again. Their dialogue has a ring all its own; the all-white Moomintroll likes to say, “Well, strike me pink!” Jansson, who won the Hans Christian Andersen Award for the body of her work, manages to stay true to her Scandinavian sensibility and yet be completely universal in the eight volumes of the series.

Happy 67th anniversary, you dear Moomins. With graphic novels and comic books the preference of young readers these days, I hope many more of them will fall under your spell. For my part, I’m going to honor Tove Jansson and the Moomins today by exclaiming several times, “Well, strike me pink!”

Here’s a page from Comet in Moominland:

One morning—it was the morning that Moomintroll’s pappa finished building a bridge over the river—the little animal Sniff made a discovery. (There were still plenty of things left for them to discover in the valley.) He was wandering in the forest when he suddenly noticed a path he had never seen before winding mysteriously into the green shadows. Sniff was spellbound and stood gazing at it for several minutes.

“It’s funny about paths and rivers,” he mused. “You see them go by, and suddenly you feel upset and want to be somewhere else—wherever the path or the river is going, perhaps. I shall have to tell Moomintroll about this, and we can explore it together, because it would be a bit risky for me to go alone.” Then he carved a secret sign on a tree trunk with his penknife, so that he could find the place again, and thought proudly: “Moomintroll will be surprised.” And after that he scooted home as fast as he could so as not to be late for lunch.

Moomintroll was just putting up a swing when Sniff got home. He seemed very interested in the mysterious path, and directly after lunch they set off to have a look at it.

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Originally posted August 9, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Geography, Politics
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Comet in Moominland
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COMMENTS

  1. G.Perry says:

    I first became aware of Tove Jansson from an article by Philip Pullman saying he loved her work.

    Then, in a February 2011 article in the Guardian, Frank Boyce was singing Jannson praises, when he made a comment that resonated with me in such a way that it stays with me.

    “One of the many debts we owe to our favourite children’s authors is the way that they alerted us – at an impressionable age – to various small pleasures.”

    Well, they’ve done that to me as well, and a recent example is Elizabeth Enright’s The Melendy Quartet. I’m still reading them, and I will always read them. Those offer profoundly small pleasures unavailable to me in early days, and, I get to keep them. Thank you Anita!

    Excuse me. I want to go introduce myself the the Moomin family.

  2. Anita says:

    Gordon: You will enjoy meeting the Moomins!

  3. suzi w. says:

    oh, I love it!! “Strike me pink!” I have always seen these on the shelf. It’s always good to have a little background.

  4. Being of Scandinavian descent, I’ll have to check these out. Can’t believe I’ve never heard of the Moomins! They sound delightful.

  5. love love love love love

  6. Kate Anne says:

    My children absolutely adore the moomins. We have Comet in Moominland as well as a few other volumes, 2 picture books (Moomin, Mymble and Little My and Who Will Comfort Toffle?), and several volumes of the comics. My kids love them all, and have a familiarity with the characters deeper than even Winnie the Pooh! They are each so special in their own way.

    Who Will Comfort Toffle? is a breathtaking picture book and may be a great introduction for younger ones new to the Moomin world. Toffle is painfully shy, until he finds a message in a bottle from a little girl who needs help from the evil Groke. He overcomes his shyness (but not without struggle) in order to save her. It’s fantastic. And it rhymes! :)

  7. Anita says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments. Kate Anne: I am always happy to hear about these wonderful books resonating with children.

  8. Hi. I’m from Portugal and I first saw the animated series– a little strange for a 10 year old..
    Years after, I red the books. Great. I wanted to go back in time again and be a child.
    Reading it helped a lot to relieve the magic of childhood.
    These books are a bit like Winnie the Pooh books… but with more danger and adventure.
    All good children books do that!! We can go back in time for a safe childhood to live adventure in a jungle… fight giants and all is possible…

  9. Anita says:

    Alexandre: Thanks so much for the post. Yes, our great books allow us to go back to childhood — again and again.

  10. Sarah says:

    And do read Tove Jansson’s twenty-two vignettes published in 1972 — THE SUMMER BOOK.

  11. Brian says:

    Thanks for the article, I’m always looking to discover “new” children’s authors and this one sounds great.

    Do you have an email list to subscribe to? I looked but couldn’t find one.

  12. Anita says:

    Brian: Thanks for the post. I don’t have email capacity on this site. You can follow on Twitter or Facebook. Anita

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