Offbeat European Children’s Books For Adults

From Electric Lit:

I have a confession to make: with nearly half a century behind me, I still read children’s books. The best are truly ageless—think Alice in WonderlandThe Little Prince, Winnie-the-Pooh. No other genre, to my mind, is as consistently capable of reawakening our sense of wonder and joy, of brushing the dust off our somewhat faded vision of the world.

In fact, I drew on my lifelong love of fairy tales and nursery rhymes in my own fourth novel, The Charmed Wife, a genre-bending mix of fantasy and realism that plays with storytelling conventions as it upends the familiar narratives of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Bluebeard, and many other childhood favorites. True, my book features talking mice and divorce proceedings alike, and is decidedly not for the little ones, but I myself continue to find something deeply soothing in settling down with a cup of tea and a proper children’s book—and even more so now, during these anxious days of health worries, political unrest, and isolation.

So, if, like me, you gravitate toward more innocent pleasures as your comfort reads but have already exhausted all the old staples, here are some lesser-known offerings that may appeal both to the children in your family and to the child in you. Fair warning: many of these are darker, sadder, or odder than your regular boy-wizard, unicorn-princess fare. All are very good.

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The Moomin Series by Tove Jansson

Quite simply, these are the best children’s books I know. I grew up in Russia, and the Moomin trolls were a vital part of my childhood, as they have been for every child in Scandinavian countries since their appearance some three-quarters of a century ago. They are beginning to gain a devoted following in the U.S. too, but are not a household presence yet. By all rights, they should be.

Written and illustrated by the Finnish Tove Jansson (1914-2001) and inspired by her bohemian upbringing, these books—eight novels, a collection of short stories, and a number of picture books and comics—cover the adventures of the easy-going, fun-loving Moomins and their quirky friends. The stories celebrate family, openness to new things and new people, love of nature, simplicity, hospitality—the most important things in life, in short—and they do so with subtle humor, charm, and wisdom.

The earlier books (Finn Family MoomintrollMoominsummer Madness) are filled with summery pleasures, as delicious as strawberries savored amid carefree laughter at a June picnic. The later (Moominland MidwinterMoominpappa at Sea, and Moominvalley in November) are more somber in spirit, with a distinct vein of wintry sadness running through them, but, in my opinion, they are the most rewarding of the lot. Oh, and whatever book you choose to start with (and once you start, you will read more), it is very important to remember: Moomins are NOT hippos.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit