Today, three short chapter books to suit a variety of readers coming to us from Sweden and the UK.
These books were all a joy for me to read, and I am hardly the target audience!
So think outside the box when it comes to handing these out to the readers in your sphere, or even giving one a whirl yourself.
Where Dani Goes, Happy Follows, written by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
published originally in Sweden; English language edition 2019 by Gecko Press
Here’s the latest in the sublime series coming to us from Sweden about that dear girl, Dani, and her brave, kind, warmhearted take on life.
Every installment knits my heart more thoroughly to this child and I eagerly cracked this one open, ready to catch up on her latest goings-on, just as though I were sitting down for a good chat over a cup of tea with a friend. When I’d finished, there was that comforting sense of having connected with something and someone so genuine, humane, and honest. Truly, this series just gets richer as it proceeds.
It’s impossible to capture the emotional resonance and charm with just a plot summary, so I’ll simply say that in this round Dani’s dad heads off on a solo vacation leaving Dani with her grandparents. Recollecting that it’s her BFF Ella’s birthday, Dani winds up taking the train by herself to pay Ella a surprise visit. Things get tangled up mightily from there on compelling Dani to wrestle internally and in person with various relationships in this insightful, warmly humorous, ultimately optimistic account.
Eva Eriksson’s illustration work captures that endearing girl perfectly. Ages 7 and up.
You are definitely better off reading this series in order. Find my review of the first book in this series, here.
Mr. Penguin and the Lost Treasure, written and illustrated by Alex T. Smith
first published in Great Britain in 2017; U.S. edition 2019 by Peachtree Publishers
Mr. Penguin has recently opened up shop as a Professional Adventurer and is therefore elated when the phone rings and Ms. Boudicca Bones from the Museum of Extraordinary Objects is on the line, seeking his expertise in recovering a long-hidden, secret treasure in their dilapidated museum! That’s what I’m talking about!
Little does Mr. Penguin know just how adventurous this undertaking will be! Treasure maps, red wax seals, and secret staircases are all very well, but when you add in snaggle-toothed alligators, cold-hearted jewel thieves, and almost certain death — well! — that ratchets up the unsavory nature of the hunt to Unexpectedly Worrisome levels!
Join Mr. Penguin and his side-kick Colin — a clever spider sporting a bowler hat — in this mad-cap, danger-laden pursuit! Heavily, zestfully illustrated.
A lark for ages 7 and up.
Another Mr. Penguin adventure is set to hit U.S. shelves in October of this year.
The Runaways, written by Ulf Stark, illustrated by Kitty Crowther, translation by Julia Marshall
originally published in Sweden 2018; English edition by Gecko Press in 2019
Hurrah for Gecko Press and their superb gifts to us of literature in translation.
This piece, a posthumous publication by renowned Swedish author Ulf Stark, illustrated by fabulous Belgian artist, Kitty Crowther, is one of the most subversive, and simultaneously deeply-human stories I’ve met.
As in Danny the Champion of the World, the story finds us rooting for two unabashed liars — one an immensely-trying curmudgeon of a grandfather, the other his empathetic, resourceful grandson — as they break grandpa out of the hospital and run away from all its sterile rules and constrictive, deadening carefulness towards one reckless, life-embracing salute to freedom, home, and everlasting love.
The supreme delight these two take in their ability to think through the details of their crime, hoodwink parents and nursing staff alike, effortlessly lie, is astonishingly contagious. One would imagine feeling conflicted over such flagrant wickedness, but no, we are all in, laughing aloud and crossing our fingers as they carry out the plan, just the way we do when Ocean and his eleven accomplices pull off the perfect heist.
Perhaps it’s my age or my baby-of-the-family status that so pulled me into this act of resistance, but I have to believe all of us resonate with this portrait of one elderly fellow, even with his supreme limitations, being treated like a human being — not a patient, not a problem, not a burden. Certainly Stark meant for us to see the rightness of the wrong-doers and the wrong-ness of the right-doers in this insightful story. For, heavily balancing the naughty merriment of their caper lies an ache of grief and melancholy. This is, after all, Grandpa’s swan song, his farewell voyage to the old cottage in the sun-lit archipelago and all that life there entailed. Dear grandson Gottfried is giving him the chance to bask in the memories of his beloved wife, to savor one last jar of her lingonberry jam.
And Crowther’s illustrations! Perfection. Her forthright line and capricious palette augment the quirkiness of the tale as she portrays cantankerous Grandpa in all his moods and makes us swoon over the beauty of the island-dotted Swedish waterways. Brilliant.
I hope my hints and ramblings will give you a notion of who might enjoy the book. It’s easy enough for an 8-year-old to tackle on her own. Yet the undercurrents, relationships, and perspectives will amply reward an adult reader looking for something brief, meaningful, and life-affirming.