Children in the Middle of Crises – Children’s Books in Nordic Countries

IBBY Finland asked other Nordic IBBY sections about the books concerning the theme of this issue of Virikkeitä: children in the middle of crises.

Sanna Pelliccioni

A great variety of books in Norway – and some conservative opponents

“Children in the middle of crisis” is a theme that runs well with a trend in Norway in recent years.” says Maria Brandt form IBBY Norway. kansi_tanska2“We observe a direction towards more grave themes in books written for children and young people, such as war and international conflict. Some recent examples are Svart elfenben (Black Ivory) by Arne Svingen, Pappa er ein sjørøvar (Dad is a Pirate) by Hans Sande, and about refugees Dagen vi drømte om (The Day we Dreamt About) by Bjørn Arild Ersland, Zainab må flykte (Zainab must escape) by Salah Nassar, Reisen (The Voyage) by Veronica Salinas. The trilogy that may be most in the spotlight at the moment: Barsakh, Verdensredderne (The World Saviours) by Simon Stranger and De som ikke finnes (Those who don’t exist). Stranger is nominated for the Nordic Council’s Children and Young People’s Literature Prize 2015 for the latter.”

Stranger’s trilogy deals mainly with boat refugees, but also labourers’ rights and the Western exploration of textile production in Asia. These global problems are seen through the eyes of a Norwegian teenager, Emilie, that show how being a young adult today can be about more than forming an identity within your home and country, but also being part of a global humanity as a world citizen.

“Some of these titles have caused debate and resistance because they are so brutally honest in dealing with these matters”, Brandt says. “The conservative opponents are against this opening up from (over)protection of the children.”There has also been a blooming of books about the Second World War for children, a scarce theme until now. Some, like Over grensen (Across the Boarder) by Maja Lundes, can be read as a backdrop and/or comparison to what is happening in the world today”, Brandt summs up the situation in Nordic children’s book scene.

A number of books concerning children in the middle of the crises in Denmark

“In Denmark we have a number of books written about children in areas of crises”, says Bjarne W. Andresen from IBBY Denmark and gives a few examples:omar_satmira_fatima_amir

  • I love you Danmark by Kim Fupz Aakeson and Rasmus Bregnnøi (2012) is the graphic novel of a young refugee in Denmark. It gives the reader an insight in the thoughts of a person, who left his family and has difficulties bonding with other people. The novel has two kind of drawings: ones show the reader how he lives, the other show the reader, how the young man describes it himself.
  • Omar Amir Fatima Samira by Morten Dürr and Peter Bay Alexandersen (2014) is a collection of four books about children in Denmark. Omar has an uncle named Hassan, who almost was eaten by stray dogs in his country. Amir has survived the bombings of Libanon. Fatimas greatest wish is to be like the Egyptian goddess Isis. Nadims father and sister died during the war in his old country. They all try to adapt to living in Denmark without losing what they are.
  • Havenisserne flytter ind (The garden elves moving in) by Josefine Ottesen and Birde Poulsen (2015) is the story about the garden elves, who loses their home as the big apple tree falls down during a storm. They seek shelter in a house and meet both friendly and not friendly residents. The book is written in 24 chapters due to the tradition of reading one chapter of a book each day of December until Christmas.

Many books about conflicts and war in Sweden, but not yet about the fleeing form Middle East in recent years

“There are books in swedish about children in political crisis and war. Many of them depict the second world war and others from crisis that has taken place since then. But this new, very severe situation of a large number of families fleeing from Syria and other countries in the middle east has not yet reached the literature” says Ulla Hjorton from IBBY Sweden.

“There is of course a need for these stories. I would think that workshops for kids, telling stories, writing stories and also creating art about these things are as important as reading stories for the children who have had these horrible experiences. And it is important for the children born here to learn what children of today have to go through and literature is a good way to do so” Hjorton emphasizes and gives some examples of swedish books:

  • Flykten – en bok om att tvingas lämna allt (The Flight – a book about being forced to leave everything) by Mia Hellqvist Forss  2013. Jonas and Sara have to leave their home together with their parents, the flight is long and dangerous and they might not be able to return. The book is also available in arabic.
  • Om du skulle fråga Micha (If you should ask Micha) by Viveka Sjögren 2015. Because of the war Micha and his family have to first hide and then leave everything. They arrive in a country where they have to wait for a long time for a residence permit.
  • Pojken, flickan och muren (The boy, the girl and the wall) by Ulf Stark, illustrated by Anna Höglund, 2011. A book about living in a land with a wall, the story may be Israel and Palestine, but the countries names are not mentioned.
  • Systern från havet (The sister from the sea) by Ulf Stark and illustrated by Stina Wirsén, 2015, is a book about a finnish girl coming to a swedish family during the second world war.
  • Den långa långa resan (The long long journey) by Ilon Wikland, 1995, is a story about Ilon Wiklands own flight from Estonia to Sweden as a girl during the war, leaving her parents behind and her first time in Sweden.
  • There’s also Annika Thors series of three books by for teenagers written about a jewish girl who is sent to Sweden during the 2:nd worldwar – her parents are killed during holocost – and she is adjusting to a new life. The books are called En ö i havet (An island in the sea), 1996, Näckrosdammen ( The water lily pond),1997, and Havets djup (The dept of the sea), 1998.

Lack of books that deal with war or refugees in Iceland

“There is a considerable shortage of Icelandic children’s books that deal with children in war or refugee situations”, say Guðrún Lára Pétursdóttir and Ævar Þór  Benediktsson from IBBY Iceland. “Partly, the explanation no doubt lies in the fact that Iceland has never been directly involved in a war nor maintained its own army. Relatively few refugees come here seeking shelter, and even fewer are granted asylum.” kansi_islanti

Nonetheless, some Icelandic children’s books do deal with war, say Pétursdóttir and Benediktsson. For instance, the Second World War is a central presence in the works of beloved children’s author Guðrún Helgadóttir, while many Icelandic authors have touched upon the subject through the means of the fantasy – describing the effect it has on a child to live with the threat of war.

To this day no Icelandic children’s author has covered the reality faced by refugees, but Vala Þórsdóttir and Agnieszka Nowak have written two books under the title ”Þankaganga Myslobieg”, telling the story of a girl, half Icelandic – half Polish, who moves from Poland to Iceland with her family. The books describe the experience of belonging to two different nationalities, speaking two languages and sometimes even having to interpret and explain things to your close relatives in your new home country. The books are notable for many reasons, not least for the fact that they are completely bilingual, Polish and Icelandic text appearing side by side.

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