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Books set in Scandinavia

For the thirteenth year, I have had a summer reading game in my children’s library. It’s always a geographical game, with kids reading books from a particular part of the world. Families who have taken part over time have loved this game, as their kids read books they would never know about otherwise, and they often encounter treasures. This year, we focused on Scandinavia. Not quite as many books got read, as lots of families were traveling, to make up for the last couple of years. Still, the sixteen participants read almost 550 books.

Norse Myths & Viking Tales

Norse myths were popular, especially the classic D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths, with its wonderful illustrations. For individual tales, you might look for The Adventures of Thor the Thunder God by Lise Lunge-Larsen, Stolen Thunder: A Norse Myth by Shirley Climo, or Iduna and the Magic Apples by Marianna Mayer, all nicely illustrated.

There were also many books about Vikings available. The Viking News by Rachel Wright gives lots of information in a very readable style. A Viking Town by Fiona MacDonald tells about life when Vikings were not going to sea. What a Viking! by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom is an engaging picture book about one Viking and his adventures. Older readers may want to try The Viking Saga, a trilogy by Henry Treece, with stories full of adventure.

Country by Country

Norway: At our end-of-summer-reading parties, trolls were mentioned as special for Norway. D’Aulaires’ Book of Norwegian Folktales contains many stories about them. One tale that all the kids knew was “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” with its troll under the bridge. Nice versions are by Paul Galdone and Marcia Brown. Jan Brett has a number of books set in Norway, some of which include trolls, like Trouble with Trolls, in which a clever girl outsmarts the trolls by using her skis to “fly.” Other books by Brett have Norwegian themes and illustrations, including Gingerbread Baby and Hedgie’s Surprise.

A well-known Norwegian tale is “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” which is told in a variety of ways. One nice version is by Mercer Mayer. A young woman does something terrible and when she repents, she needs to make a long and dangerous journey to make things right. Tales about strong women are common. Two are Master Maid by Aaron Shepard and The Man Who Kept House by Kathleen and Michael Hague.

A lovely story of long winters and waiting for the sun to return is Welcome Back Sun by Michael Emberley. Two books based on true stories are The Race of the Birkebeiners by Lise Lunge-Larsen, in which the “true prince” is saved by skiers in 1206, and a World War II book for good readers, Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan, in which children save precious gold on their sleds.

Sweden: For Sweden, there were several favorite authors. First, of course, was Astrid Lindgren and her Pippi Longstocking stories. But children also discovered other treasures by Lindgren, including stories about Emil, stories of Noisy Village, and stories of the Tomten. Second was a new discovery for many—Elsa Beskow. She is best known for Pelle’s New Suit, which traces all the processes that go into the making of a suit, beginning with the sheep that provide the wool. But there are many more, including Peter’s Old House, Peter’s Adventures in Blueberry Land, and Children of the Forest.

All the kids read at least one of Maj Lindman’s many books about Swedish triplets. In the Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka series, three girls make a new friend, ice skate, pick strawberries, bake a cake, and so on. The triplet boys in the Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr series earn money for a sled, then give it away, learn to swim, spend time with reindeer, and more.

The books of paintings by Carl Larsson, such as Home, Family and Farm, were popular, with their detailed depictions of everyday life in Sweden. A beautiful book, both in illustrations and message, is Annika’s Secret Wish by Beverly Lewis, set in a Swedish home at Christmas.

Denmark: For Denmark, kids mostly read stories by Hans Christian Andersen. There are many lovely versions. I like Jerry Pinkney’s The Ugly Duckling, Amy Ehrlich’s The Wild Swans and The Snow Queen, both illustrated by Susan Jeffers, and Demi’s Thumbelina. You may also want to read a biography, such as The Fairy Tale Life of Hans Christian Andersen by Eva Moore.

The old tale of Beowulf is said to be set in Denmark. A good children’s telling of it is by Rosemary Sutcliff, under two titles, Beowulf and Dragon Slayer. There is also a nicely illustrated shorter version by James Rumford called Beowulf: A Hero’s Tale.

Finland: For Finland, what I mostly had to offer for reading were the many stories of the Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson. Besides books for good readers, there are also versions of these tales in comic-strip format. One wonderful tale, The Magic Mill by Joanna Troughton, is based on a story in the Finnish national saga Kalevala; it involves a great quest and heroics.

Iceland:For Iceland, I discovered an author who writes about its animals. Bruce McMillan’s books include Nights of the Pufflings, Days of the Ducklings, and My Horse of the North, all illustrated with photographs. I was surprised by how many horse books were from Iceland. There is a nice series by Krista Ruepp, including Winter Pony, and a series of Horse Diaries by Catherine Hapka, including the story of Elska.

Another delightful story by Bruce McMillan, with great illustrations, is How the Ladies Stopped the Wind. The women get tired of the wind, so they plant trees. It’s hard to keep the sheep from eating the saplings, but they persist. A nice Icelandic folktale is Half a Kingdom by Ann McGovern. When a prince is spirited away by trolls, the king offers half his kingdom to whomever finds his son. It turns out to be a smart peasant girl, and with her half of the kingdom, she makes life better for the people.

Greenland: Finally, for Greenland, there is Call Me Ahnighito by Pam Conrad. This story is told from the viewpoint of a meteorite found in Greenland and transported with a great deal of drama to a museum in New York City. Jon the Unlucky, by Elizabeth Coatsworth, tells of an orphan boy who becomes part of a “lost people” in Greenland through learning how he can be of use to them.

New Discoveries

It was a good summer of reading, with many new discoveries for the kids and for me. We enjoyed our time at the end of summer talking about the countries and what is special about each and sharing our favorite books. 

Kathie Johnson has always had a love for children's books. She collected many as a teacher and began sharing them with other teachers. In 1986, she opened a children's library in her home, and it has continued to expand over the years. Many home-schooled and schooled children borrow books from it, and she takes great pleasure in finding the "right" book for a child. She attends First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley.

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