I don’t see many books coming our way from Finland. Tove Jansson’s Finn Family Moomintroll collection is, of course, the five-star exception, but even those were originally written in Swedish, Jansson being a Swedish-speaking Finn.
Here, courtesy of Gecko Press, is a sunny volume of stories about a lazy cat named Purdy and his best friend, a dog named Barker, written by a beloved Finnish children’s author, Timo Parvela.
Bicycling to the Moon, by Timo Parvela, illustrated by Virpi Talvitie, translated by Ruth Urbom first published in Finland, 2009; first English edition in 2016 by Gecko Press 128 pages
Purdy and Barker live in a “sky-blue house on top of a hill” where the moon shines silver above and reflects in a glittering path across the lake below.
These two are as different as night and day. Barker is an extraordinarily hard worker, ever planning out the next project to make their little farm prosperous, storing up comestibles, mending the winter woolies, while Purdy daydreams, dabbles in art, plays games, and grouses about this and that.
Almost two dozen short episodes bring us through a year in their household, including a hare-brained scheme of Purdy’s to bicycle across the moonlit waters, visits from their gossipy neighbors, a gigantic tomato war, Purdy’s resolve to migrate for the winter, art lessons, Christmas, a ski trek, a treasure hunt, a surprise party, and lots more.
The personalities of these two are a bit like Frog and Toad to the power of 10. I found myself feeling rather irritated with ol’ Purdy, I must say. “Barker — you are getting the raw end of the deal every time!” I remonstrated. I expect you will feel the same way. Barker is unflaggingly industrious, loyal, forgiving, an endlessly-patient friend and Purdy does not know how good he has it. While Barker dutifully carries the lion’s share of the load and suffers silently from Purdy’s oblivious selfishness, he does feel grateful for Purdy’s companionship. Purdy certainly adds a dash of spice and liveliness to their otherwise well-ordered existence! Still, this element pained me and made me curious whether there is a cultural nuance I wasn’t able to pick up. I’d be grateful for a Finnish take on this book. Anyone out there care to comment?
As a whole, the book includes an intriguing mixture of humor, shenanigans, and thoughtfulness similar to Winnie-the-Pooh. Just as Pooh Bear and Christopher Robin share some poignant moments reflecting on growth and change, so at the end of this volume Purdy and Barker have a philosophical, affecting conversation about what it looks like for the world to carry on without them. Interesting fodder for discussion.
Virpi Talvitie is a highly-awarded Finnish illustrator and graphic artist. Her pictures here are a sheer delight and add immensely to the personalities of the characters and the overall tone of the book. Warm and funny, with gorgeous rough line and subtle color. She’s also illuminated the letters beginning each chapter with clever panache.
I’d read this aloud to children ages 6 or 7 and up who don’t need gobs of action. Independent readers could tackle it at perhaps age 9. If you have Scandinavian heritage, you should definitely take advantage of this import.