March 17, 2023
I have always loved reading and collecting books. In particular children’s books. I still have a vast collection in storage in Europe, but I am preparing to have it all shipped to Canada later this year. It is time. It is like planning for a visit of good friends and I am looking forward to it so much! My nose will be in my favourite books for months to come after welcoming them back into the family fold!
I have been known to buy multiple version of books I like. Sometimes because I gave away my copy or literally read it to death. With my books in storage, one that I could not stand missing over here is the tale of Nils Holgersson. I found a good temporary replacement edition via Goodreads as bandaid for my soul, but when my own personal copy arrives from Europe, I will be so so happy!
Nils Holgersson’s story is not that well-known outside of Europe, I believe. It has been made into a cartoon some years ago, but it just does not have the same charm for me as my own copy of the book, illustrated by the Dutch master Anton Pieck. He was famous for his meticulous depiction of daily life in my home country, The Netherlands. He worked with ink and watercolour, in great detail, and all of his human characters were really expressive and sometimes looked like caricatures. This nose a big bigger, that back more strongly curved… There is a nostalgia to his art that really speaks to me.
The book tells the tale of Nils Holgersson, a farm boy of humble descent. He is lazy and surly and impolite. He teases the farm animals and hates doing homework. One day, he traps an elf on the farm and as a revenge, it changes him into a miniature version of himself. Unfased, mini-Nils ventures out of the farmhouse and eggs on his parent’s fat, white house goose, when the migrating geese fly over the family farm. He tells her she could not possibly keep up with these strong flyers. But she calls his bluff and takes off to join the goose migration. In a spur-of-the-moment decision, Nils jumps on her back and thus starts a great adventure. He discovers that he can understand all animal language and he learns to appreciate life from the perspective of the animal world.
The book was written by Swedish novelist and 1909 (female!) Nobel Prize winner for Literature: Selma Lagerlöf (1858–1940). I have read it in Dutch, German and English. I wish I spoke Swedish, because the book must be even cuter in its original language. Bucket list item: must learn to speak and read Swedish! The book is not just a children’s story. It contains a lot of historical data about Scandinavia and all life in that great North. One of the things I learned from this book is how to recognise a migrating goose – there are many that need years and years to get migrant status and just as many that never make it. But the true hardy ones, the ones that pay hommage to the stellar flying skills of this species, can be recognised by looking at their feet. The more battered they are, the bigger the chance that you are looking at a professional flyer!
The story spoke to me so strongly that, even today, whenever I see and hear migrating geese (which happens a lot here in Canada…), I look up to check if there is a white one amongst them, carrying a mini version of Nils on its back…
Anyway… I am digressing from what I actually set out to talk about. Stories and children’s books. I have a couple of tales ready to go and I even created a couple of paintings for some, just for the fun of it. One is about a little filly that was born from an egg. As a young horse, she looked completely normal. But as she matures, she develops a strong itch on her back and, as you can already guess, this is because she is growing a pair of wings…
You will have to wait for her adventures until the book is published. Who knows. It might just happen. One day.