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mercoledì 13 giugno 2012

Ilon Wikland and her illustrations

I have always been interested in picture books and illustrations, and after becoming the mother of the cutest little bookworm ever, my interest couldn't but grow.

All countries have peculiar traditions concerning children's literature and picture books, and Sweden is particularly fascinating in this way. If I put aside my knowledge and all I've learnt from books and just focus of the thought of "Sweden", I think of long, dark winters, short, cool summers glowing with sunlight, water and rocks and pine trees and flowers. Cosy interiors, smell of cinnamon. Space, forests, sounds of nature. I think a lot of children's picture books express in different ways all these aspects of life in Sweden, especially a strong feeling for nature, her constant presence with her beauty, mystery, power.

The Swedish children's literature tradition was initiated by the Swedish-speaking Finn Zacharius Topelius in the 19th century, though it was Elsa Beskow (1874–1953) who marked a significant turning point, writing and illustrating over 40 children's stories between 1897–1952. She rewrote classical fairy tales, from Andersen for example, and found inspiration in Scandinavian folklore.

In the 1930s a new awareness of children's needs emerged, as grown-ups started to understand the importance of imagination and subversive thought in children. This manifested itself shortly after World War II, when Astrid Lindgren published Pippi Longstocking in 1945. Pippi's rebellious behaviour at first sparked resistance among some defenders of cultural values, but eventually she was accepted, and with that children's literature was freed from the obligation to promote moralism and "rules". As her official site informs us, "her archive at the National Library of Sweden covers 125 shelf meters and contains an estimated 75,000 letters. The archive was placed on Unesco’s World Heritage List in 2005.".

My daughter loves Pippi and many other Astrid Lindgren's characters and we've read many books by this author to her, and I like them all. What I truly DON'T like and almost loathe are the Swedish TV series based on them, most of which are from the '70's and '80's and - to my humble point of view - ruin Astrid Lindgren's characters completely, creating a series of disturbed, unbearable kids, and are even potentially dangerous, showing children throwing themselves out of windows or down roofs and landing safely or with minor injuries, and countless more similar stunts. So, these TV films have all my disrespect.

But as I said, the original books by A. Lindgren are much better, and they are always accompanied by beautiful illustrations. One illustrator who worked with the writer for many years and produced wonderful pictures is Ilon Wikdal.

She was born in Estonia in 1930 and moved to Sweden as a refugee aged 14. Her collaboration with Astrid Lindgren started in 1954, when she was commissioned the illustrations for Mio, min Mio.

Her drawings are ecceptionally detailed and have a special, warm atmosphere about them. She created evocative landscapes, domestic scenes, cityscapes. Her winter scene are particularly suggestive.

This, for example, is taken from "Titta, Madicken, det snöar!" (Look, Madicken, it's snowing!) and it shows the moment Madicken looks out the window to see the first snow on a Sunday MORNING.... now, that blue, ice cold darkness is the colour of early mornings in Stockholm in the middle of the winter, when days have 5, 6 hours of light and the rest is night and snow sends its frozen glow. When I see this picture I feel a fit of anxiety remembering the neverending Swedish winter....

The following are photos I took on the day before Christmas in 2010, in Uppsala. It was late in the morning... oh my, oh my.

3 commenti:

  1. Great illustrations!!

    I have a real,genuine passione for children's books.. I think that most of them are not for kids (only, I mean).

    Taliking about Swedish pic books...dont forget the amazing world of Moomins by Jansson :) I love them!!

  2. I love them too, of course!! :) We have the whole series both in Swedish and Italian, and actually a Moomin book was one of the first gifts I got from my Love, and I was so moved to get a children's book from a man! :D I used that book to nurse me to sleep during many insomniac nights.
    Tove Jansson wrote grown-ups' books, too, and this is very nice: