The Moomins

We were traveling last week, and in between stops we checked out a small library.  The children’s librarian there had just started a scavenger hunt for a group of kids.  Each kid was handed a list of 12 clues, which included such questions as ‘What will you find in the 910 section of the library ?’ (Geography & Travel), ‘What is above the stairway to the basement ?’ (A model of a four masted schooner).  At the end of the hunt, each kid could pick out a free book to take home.

Seemed like a great idea to get kids involved in the library, and also to give away some used books, so off Mr. C went on the scavenger hunt, with our help.  At the end, he could pick something out from a box of books, most of which were library discards.

There among the super hero movie  and toy tie-ins was something that looked familiar.  About a year or so ago, Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings wrote a post about the Moomin series of books by Tove Jansson, and there in the box was ‘Moominsummer Madness’.   I had not read any of the books when I was growing up, and had never heard of them before I read her review, but from her reviews of some of the books in the series, it at least appeared to be the best of the lot.



The Moomins are creatures who live in Moominvalley, getting into a series of adventures in eight books that were published from 1946 through 1970.  They always manage to get into some kind of catastrophe, but manage to end up fine in the end.

Since she can write about the series better than I can, here’s a link to one of the reviews on Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings

I especially like Jansson’s artwork, with just enough detail so you know what’s happening, but still leaving something to the imagination. Check out this illustration of the Moomins coming through the forest to see some new mysterious creature.  Using the black ink to create shadows, you know those are big trees, and the forest is supposed to be a little bit menacing. Even though there are no other creatures shown in the trees, maybe there are others in that dark forest ?  Those are the Moomins in the foreground, they look a bit like rounded off hippos.



Here’s a detailed map of Moominvalley.



It has quickly become Mr. C’s favorite book.

‘Read it again!’  Mr. C said at bedtime.

After breakfast he said ‘Finish eating quick so we can read some more!’

‘Let’s read that book some more!’  He said after lunch.

‘You know, there are more books in the series, we’ll have to check some out of the library.’ I said.

‘Go to the library now and get more!’ he said.

It’s been the first series that Mr. C has been so excited to read.  When we went to our own local library today, he was very excited to see that the library had recently purchased hardcover editions of five of the books, so we’ll be reading more soon!


Before he goes to bed, Mr. C likes to have us read him a bedtime story.  When I read him a story, I try to read in a calm soothing voice with a low volume monotone.  He will fall asleep fairly quickly when I do this, especially when I read a particularly slow moving story.   Some of his favorites have been the Richard Scary ‘Busy Town’ stories, ‘Katy and the Big Snow’ by Virginia Lee Burton, Curious George books, and anything by Alice and Martin Provensen.  All of which are nice bedtime story material.    Recently though, his favorite book has been a book about snakes.  This one below.  It’s not at all soothing. It’s creepy.   The subtitle of the book is “The scariest cold blooded creatures on Earth!”.    And to answer the question early, No, we did not buy this one, it was given to him as a gift.



I have nothing against snakes, but this book is making me not like snakes or reptiles at all.   But Mr. C will often request it, so I have to pick a snake to read about in my calm sleepy time voice and wait for him to fall asleep.  It’s a non-fiction book, formatted to show details on a variety of snakes including a color photo, details on where it lives, what it eats, how long it lives, and a graphic depiction of each snake attacking someone.

Like this woman who is being bitten by an Asian Pit Viper while she is trying to harvest tea leaves on a plantation.  Look out!



Or this one, a little girl playing on the beach about to be bitten by a European Adder.    “A young girl decides to take a short cut through the dunes.  This takes her right into the adder’s sunning spot.  The girl treads on the sleepy adder’s coils.  Unable to escape, the snake reacts by striking at her leg, sinking its long fangs into her flesh.”     It’s just about impossible to read something like this in a calm soothing voice.



So, I make something up.   Something like; “The little girl is playing on the beach, and walks by the snake, the snake says ‘hello little girl, I hope you have fun on the beach today!’  And she did have fun on the beach!  She played in the sand all day, she made a huge sand castle, and saw a dolphin!  Then she went home and had dinner and went to sleep.   The end.    Are you asleep yet?”    “Read the next one Dada!” he says.

He’s perfectly happy with the heavily edited version that I come up with, so it’s not as though he’s upset with my own interpretation.  It seems to me that maybe he’s not really even paying that close attention to what I’m saying anyway, he just wants to hear some soothing words before he falls asleep.   So it may not be bothering him, but it’s giving me nightmares.

There is a section on Amphibians too, at the back of the book, which is many pages after a large number of people have been bitten in horrible ways.  So one time I skipped to that section, thinking that turtles and newts are harmless.   How could this book make harmless turtles seem to be at all sinister ?

Well they are sinister!   Just look at this poor guy in the canoe!  Just paddling along when he gets attacked by turtles in a tree, just waiting for someone like him to come by in a canoe!  Here they are jumping off a tree branch onto his head!  Bonk!   Look out paddling canoe guy,  those turtles are going to get you!




Who is this book written for ?   Eight year old kids who like horror movies with titles like “Attack of the Tree Turtles!” ?

Maybe if I hide it somewhere he will forget about it and we can get back to the happy adventures of Huckle the Cat in ‘What Do People Do All Day ?’.





Dada’s Favorite Book

After Mr. C clonked me on the head with some kind of blunt object, maybe it was his Schleich alligator, or one of his Thomas the Train engines,  I’m not sure.  I lay on the floor of his room holding my head saying ‘Ow, ow, ow’ over and over.

‘Don’t worry Dada, I’ll get something that will make you feel better!’  he said.

I waited patiently on the floor in my dazed state, somewhat amused and wondering what he might have in mind.  In a few minutes he brought over a book.

‘It’s your favorite book, Dada!, this should make you feel better!’

It was a book that I found at the Martha’s Vineyard booksale , ‘Town and Country’ by Alice and Martin Provensen.   I’m not sure how he knows, but it really is one of my favorite books.   I’ve been reading it often since I came across it at the sale.  I’m not sure wether it is because of the nature of my former career in the visually oriented world of advertising, but I really love a good children’s picture book.   He has quite a collection of books now, and so many of them are almost little works of art, he couldn’t have picked a better book as being my favorite.

There’s a story in Ms. J’s family that her younger sister loved one of the Provensen’s book’s so much that she had her Dad read it to her every night for at least a couple of years.    That book is ‘The Year at Maple Hill Farm’,   which is also very good, but I prefer the more detailed art in ‘Town and Country’.    I have to admit that I had not heard of the Provensens before I heard that story, but whenever we go to used book stores I now check out the Children’s book section to see if they have any of their books.  They’re probably most well known book is ‘The Color Kittens’, though they published quite a few, including more than one book of illustrated fairy tales, myths, and fables.

Unfortunately,  I believe that most, if not all of their books are out of print.  I’m not sure why, I’m assuming it is because their artistic style might be considered out of date by publishers.  It really is unfortunate since their work is so rich and detailed.  I believe they wrote or illustrated more than 40 books, starting in the late 1940’s through the early 1990’s.  Martin passed away in 1987, Alice is apparently still working on her art in her mid-90’s.




First published in 1984,  it tells the story of their commute into New York City from their house in the country.  The city is described as being filled with interesting places to go and things to see, bustling streets, exotic restaurants, parks, museums, and all kinds of activity.

For some reason, I’m convinced that these two kids are self-protraits of the artists as children, with Alice on the top floor looking at the window, and Martin just below her in the apartment below her.


Here’s another detail of a page from the ‘City’ section, showing the variety of stores and restaurants.


Their prose might be considered bland, but really should be read aloud from start to finish for its lyricism to be appreciated.

‘Weather isn’t very important in a city.

Rain or shine, hot or cold,

you can go to the Zoo.

The Library is open.

You can go to a Museum,

to the Aquarium, the Planetarium

or to a theater to see a play.”


I’m sure the above illustration is of The Metropolitan Museum with its view of Central Park.  They have a varied style, some of their work reminds me of Marc Chagall,  this one above reminds me of a simplified Pieter Bruegel.

The ‘Country’ section is much more sedate.  Describing the relaxed way of life of their home in upstate New York.

“If it is stormy, you can lay in the hayloft of the big barn where it is quiet and warm and dry.

Or you can find an out of the way place to read a good book while the rain drums on the windowpanes.”


Mr. C has a lot of books.  Some he has received as gifts, some we bought for him as gifts, some we found at library book sales.  They fill an entire book shelf already.  I’m sure that as he gets older he will go though some of his books and want to discard some of the ones that he feels that he has outgrown.  Maybe we’ll give some to friends or relatives,  and others we’ll give back to the library for them to sell at their book sale again, or maybe we’ll give some to charity.

I’m going to make sure that we keep this one though.