Monday, October 02, 2006

Scandinavian children's literature

Julia Null Smith reviewed four new Scandinavian children's books in the Austin American-Statesman.

For 9-12 year olds:

there's Bodil Bredsdorff's The Crow- Girl (Sunburst Books, $5.95), a lovely, short book about a girl who lives with her grandmother on Denmark's rocky coast, and then must find her own way in the world after grandma's death. I was worried that this would be another good-for-you book that grown-ups hope kids will like — a la "Julie of the Wolves" and other dialogue- and character-free tales of hardship. Instead, in deceptively simple prose, Bredsdorff gives us a quiet story of adventure, featuring a kind, resourceful girl who is searching for a way out of her own loneliness.

Called "Crow-Girl" because of her black hair, and because she follows two crows who represent her instinct and intuition, the girl seems to collect people who need her help and finds kindness and love along the way. By the end, the book's loose ends are satisfyingly tied up and Crow-Girl chooses her own name, one that she wants to share with the people she loves.

And for 10-14 year olds:
there's "The Shamer Chronicles," a series of four fantasies by Danish author Lene Kaaberbol. Eleven-year-old Dina has inherited her mother's gifts as a "Shamer," who can look into someone's eyes and see what they're most ashamed of, as well as her father's "serpent gifts" of deception and illusion.

The final book, The Shamer's War (Henry Holt, $17.95), finds Dina and her family once again facing the evil Drakan, a knight who keeps dragons and has seized the throne of the kingdom of Dunark. He's now conquering the surrounding lands, moving ever closer to Dina's family in search of his half-brother, Nico, the rightful heir to the throne.

The book is filled with the narrow escapes, grandiose battle scenes and harrowing brushes with dragons you expect from a page-turning work of fantasy. But it also seems like a parable for the modern world: There are opportunists, true believers and scared refugees. There's so much going on here: a meditation on the role of guilt and shame in our culture; a cautionary tale of drug abuse — Dina's brother Davin develops an addiction after being forced to drink dragon blood as a captive of Drakan; and a captivating look at tribal and familial loyalty. The Shamer series easily holds up to the work of K.M. Grant, Tamora Pierce and even J.K. Rowling.

For Scandinavian books recommended for younger readers, click here.

Click here for free online access to the fairy tales of Denmark's great children's writer, Hans Christian Andersen.

--Marshal Zeringue