My Heart is Laughing, by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson, translated by Julia Marshall originally published in Sweden, 2012 English edition published in 2014 by Gecko Press
“This is a story about Dani, who’s always happy.
She’s unhappy too, now and then, but she doesn’t count those times.”
Isn’t that a terrific beginning? I adore Dani, in just two lines.
Her approach to the world and its troubles, her innocent penchant for happiness, her uncomplicated system of discarding unhappiness is cherry-alive.
We’ve met Dani in an earlier book, My Happy Life, which I reviewed here. She’s a wispy-haired, elfin girl, about age 6 who lives with her dear father. Her mother has died. Also her best friend Ella has moved away. You might not think a girl in that situation would call her story “My Happy Life” but remember — Dani doesn’t count the unhappy times.
In this sweet sequel, Dani runs into a bit more unhappiness to discard and a lot of happiness to embrace.
In her classroom are two girls — Vicky and Mickey — both smitten with the same boy. They give him paper hearts; he doesn’t give them the time of day. Instead, he gives Dani — Dani! — a little piece of raspberry-flavored gum. And asks to sit by her.
This makes Vicky and Mickey quite huffy.
All of this drama is neither here nor there, really, to Dani. The main thing on her mind is Ella. Ella who has moved away to Northbrook. Ella, who Dani is sure will return one day soon so she is saving her a seat where she always used to sit — right next to her — even though the teacher sighs and says Ella is not coming back, you know.
When Vicky and Mickey dial the meanness up a notch, though, and pinch Dani, and pinch and pinch some more, she just can’t take it. She retaliates with a squirt bottle of…I don’t know what…lingonberry sauce? Anyway, things go very badly. There’s nothing for it but to up and run away.
There’s a bit of crying to do. A bit of sorting things out. And then a great big swash of most-surprising happiness in store for Dani. All of which means that it only makes sense for her to say she’s so happy, her heart is laughing.
This tender episode in the life of a very real kindergartener (or so) is funny and warmhearted and filled with hope. Dani’s single father is a wonderful dad. Her teacher runs a lively classroom full of the same children you and I know. Dani’s observations, her loneliness, optimism, vigor, loyalty, hurt, childishness, forgiveness, and joy all ring true.
Coming to us from Sweden, the ambling tone and warm, honest family life here reminds me of Kevin Henkes’ Billy Miller. Yet this book is an easy chapter book. Brief paragraphs of text share pages of charming line drawings by Eva Eriksson. Her simply-ordinary children slump and shrug and glare and beam. They are enraged, nonplussed, engulfed in tears. So much personality skitters around these pages via Eriksson’s masterful, sketchy line.
Super choice for young girls launching from advanced easy readers into something a wee bit longer, as well as a delightful, brief read-aloud for kids ages 5 and up.