During this last 2012-2013 school year, my boys and I read a significant number of books. Most of them were excellent. I am thankful that some of them were responsible for turning S on to reading for the sheer pleasure of it. Unwittingly, we read several books with Scandinavian settings. Were we subconsiously drawn to the frigid northern climes once we slid down the steep mountains with Norwegian youth, or was this collection pure coincidence? I am not sure, but here are a few fantastic reads if you wish to visit Norway or Denmark, if only through children’s literature.
Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan – It is not often we happen upon a book that is equally celebrated by A and S both. A wants to stick strictly to realistic or historical fiction; S needs adventure. This book fits both criteria. Snow Treasure details the true story of how Norwegian children in a small mountain village smuggle millions of dollars worth of gold on their sleds past Nazi officers. In the end, they save their village and their way of life. McSwigan provides the reader with a positive story of children’s courage in a difficult time.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry – This well-known Newberry-Award winner pleasantly surprised me last year when I read it for the first time as an adult. It is based on a conglomeration of true stories during World War II Denmark, and like, Snow Treasure, it is a happy tale of grim times. The Johansen and Rosen families have always been friends. Jewish evacuation by the Nazis does not change that. Concentrating on the friendship of Annemarie and Ellen, we see a glimpse into the goodness, bravery and determination of the Danes as they save the vast number of their nation’s Jews by smuggling them onto the southern shores of neutral Sweden. This is an excellent story for eight to twelve-year-olds who may love an historical novel, but are not able to handle other gruesome events of war times. Truth be told, I was comforted and inspired by the noble nature of the story. Do not forget to discuss the scientific reasons why cocaine was used in the smuggling. While Annemarie was not an actual girl, she and her family are true in spirit. Many such Jewish families found freedom due to the compassion and goodness of their neighbors.
Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus – Here is another World War II novel with a unique perspective, and with perhaps a bit more violence described than the two previous books. Again, we are in the Norwegian mountains, this time with 14-year-old Espen. Over the next five years we see him come of age as he becomes a courier, then a spy for the Norwegian resistance movement. He protects his family, his friends and his country, but eventually finds himself skiing for his life over the mountains into liberating Sweden. Preus’ storytelling keeps the reader on the edge of his seat, while the actual photographs remind us that real youths began (and ended) their lives in such extraordinary ways. Preus interviewed Erling Storrusten, the real-life Espen, in researching her novel.
Samuel Blink and the Forbidden Forest, and its sequel, The Runaway Troll by Matt Haig – These are some of S’s favorite books. The book opens with the Blink family in an automobile accident after an argument ensues on a road trip, killing the parents. This macabre beginning may be offputting for some, but S did not seem to be disturbed by it. The story tells of Samuel and his younger sister Martha as they move to Norway to live with their peculiar Aunt Eda after their parents’ deaths. Everything about their new home is odd. There are many different cheeses and many different rules, namely that they are never, ever to venture into the forest. Fantastic creatures based on Norwegian folklore, exploding body parts and solving the mystery at what really happened to Uncle Henrik are part of the fun. Both books are well-written. Do not forget to point out to your child Haig’s nod to Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.
D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths by Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire – Monsters, gods, elves, sprites and other mischievous creatures come to life through the sumptuous artwork of this children’s classic. Each story is faithfully, but succinctly told to give boys and girls a great appreciation for the weird and raucous tales of Norse mythology. Thor, Loki, Odin, Freya and frost giants storm through its pages.
Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman – This is a perfect read for seven to ten-year-olds who want a fictionalized version of some of the great Norse myths. This slim book stays true to the original myths and characters. Odd is a very unlucky twelve-year-old in Norway, but with a bravery he does not know he possessess, and a growing collection of peculiar friends. He just might be the one to save Asgard, the city of the gods, from the invading frost giants.
Boy by Roald Dahl- Welsh-born, from Norwegian parents, Roald Dahl is best known as a great British children’s author. What did he do with his time, however before he flew in the Royal Air Force, or before he invented the Oompa Loompas, or an enormous, juicy specimen of fruit in his own backyard? In his brief autobiography from birth to early manhood, Dahl charmingly describes his family’s yearly trips back to Norway, as well as the severity of the English boarding schools, and his inspiration for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Adults will be shocked, and children will be rolling on the floor from laughter, when they discover what the precocious Dahl children actually put in the pipe of their sister’s boyfriend.
Hopefully, some of these books spark your interest, whether it is in fiction, geography, culture or mythology. Grab a map or a globe with your child, curl up with a book, and “travel” to Scandinavia.