This programme was broadcast yesterday on BBC Radio 4 at 4pm.
We look to Scandinavian countries for examples of excellence in health, freedom, good governance, welfare, equality, peace prizes and even crime novels. But what about children’s literature?
Norwegian-born Mariella Frostrup was presumably better placed than many to present What the Scandinavians Know About Children’s Literature. The programme provided a fascinating insight into the different attitude towards children’s books and what affect this has on Nordic character.
Through a series of interviews Frostrup created a sense of nostalgia about the power of books and their impact on the children who read them. Some time was spent pondering Astrid Lindgren’s Pippy Longstocking – the red-head adventurer who lived alone, was never lonely, did as she pleased and could eat sweets instead of being force fed cod liver tablets by nagging parents.
Scandinavian authors often tackle difficult issues such as divorce, same-sex parenting and domestic violence, which give children’s books a politicised edge often absent in other children books. Scandinavian storytelling is also influenced by the long, cold, dark winters, because there are not as many options of activities.
Exploring the work of storyteller Hans Christian Andersen and Elsa Beskow, who is Sweden’s Beatrix Potter, as well as Tove Jansson’s popular Moomin stories and Alf Proysen’s Mrs Pepperpot, it became clear what Scandinavians know about children’s literature. It is about fantasy and fun, history, anarchy and subversion, all from a culture where respect for the child is paramount.
It was impossible to listen to What the Scandinavians Know About Children’s Literature without thinking back to a favourite childhood book and the lasting impact of a good yarn.