Thursday, July 31, 2008
stian hole is a norwegian illustrator and author of children's books (and no, it doesn't read hole, but more like hoo-lé). Published in ten languages, Garmann's Summer was the recipient of the 2007 BolognaRagazzi Award, one of the most prestigious international prizes for excellence in children's book publishing. the book is about a young boy afraid of starting school, who, while spending his summer with his parents and his three elderly aunts, discovers that adults also have fears.
when i first laid eyes on this book in the bookstore, i immediately fell in love. i love his illustrations. some say repulsive, others say brilliant. and then, the story turns out to be a gem as well.
you can get this book at amazon, and there you can also read a really long and really good review of it. i have taken the liberty to copypaste some of it here:
(...) when a book like "Garmann's Summer" plops down on your lap, your initial instinct is to reject it. "It looks weird!" "What's this book about?" "Why's he look like that?" It's a knee-jerk series of reactions. Only when you slow down, read the book fully, and think about it do you realize that maybe there's room in this world for a small unassuming Norwegian tale about a boy's thoughts on death, age, fear, and losing your baby teeth. Children, as odd as it sounds, are not adverse to age-appropriate emotional complexity.
(...) What it does have is a quietness. A patience. From the start, the story acknowledges that sometimes the only grown-ups six-year-olds can really connect with are the elderly. It's almost as if at a certain point, old people have gained enough wisdom to talk to small people AND tall people in meaningful ways. Maybe that's what it means to be wise.
(...) All these books tap into children's anxieties and worries. What "Garmann's Summer" does so deftly is tie an understandable fear (the first day of school) into grown-up fears (leaving, death, messing up) and in doing so shows kids that all human beings are afraid of something. Now in an American title this would mean that the book would inevitably end with a neat and tidy resolution. Somehow the message of "there's nothing to be afraid of" would filter in and everything would be hunky dory by they tale's end. There are many reasons to believe while reading "Garmann's Summer" that it was not originally produced in America, but the clearest of these is the ending. The very last four sentences of the book are, "From the corner of his eye he sees the first leaf falling from the apple tree. Before going to bed he checks his teeth one last time to see if any are loose. Thirteen hours to go before school starts. And Garmann is scared." The thing is, this isn't seen as a good or bad thing, but a fact. The accompanying image is of Garmann looking at a windowsill, his packed backpack on the floor behind him. It's a wistful kind of ending. One that assures children, without saying too much, that they are not alone in their fears. Everyone is scared of something.
(...) Stian Hole's words are one matter. His illustrations, the first thing people react to upon seeing this book, are another. On a first reading I was initially repulsed by how different the images were from anything else I'd ever seen. A kind of mixed-media collage of photographs, drawings, and retro images, some adults have a hard time with this book. I'd love to pinpoint exactly why this is. For some of them, maybe it has to do with the three aunts. Hole doesn't beautify their wrinkles or pretty up their age.
(...) None of this is to say that the book is for everyone. It isn't. There will be a lot of parents that eye the cover warily when you hand it to them, smile, and place it gently back on the shelf again. But a book like "Garmann's Summer" teaches us that not everyone in this world is alike. Sometimes you're going to find creative adults who are willing to read this story, love it, and pass it on to their children who will (in turn) read the book and love it too. I receive a lot of books for review and I keep almost none of them. "Garmann's Summer", however, is one of the few I will keep until my children (whenever I have them) are old enough to go to school. Like nothing you've ever read before, this is the very definition of a beautiful children's picture book. Highly recommended.