In 1966, one of Sweden’s most popular children’s writers, Jan Lööf, published Grandpa is a Pirate, an illustrated children’s book, which featured, among other characters, the wicked pirate Omar and the street peddler, Abdullah. The book has been a bestseller ever since, and has been translated into English (as My Grandpa is a Pirate), Spanish, French and other languages. Ten years ago, 100,000 copies of it were even distributed to the Swedish public with McDonald’s Happy Meals, as part of an initiative to support reading among children.
Ah, but those were the days of yesteryear! Now, fifty years later, the book is no longer tolerable. The now 76-year-old author told Swedish news outlets that his publisher recently said that unless he rewrites the book and changes the illustrations, it will be taken off the market. The publisher also threatened to withdraw another of his books unless it is redone: it features an illustration of a black jazz musician who sleeps with his sunglasses on.
Lööf’s publisher, the Swedish publishing giant Bonnier Carlsen, says that it has not yet made a final decision and that it only views the rewriting and re-illustrating of the books as “an option.” There is no doubt, however, that they consider the books in question extremely problematic.
A celebrated Swedish illustrator has spoken out after being asked by his publisher to change “stereotypical depictions of other cultures” in his popular children’s books.
Jan Lööf, who won the Astrid Lindgren prize in 2011 “for meritorious authorship within the realm of Swedish literature for children and youth”, told Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter this week that his publisher Bonnier Carlsen had asked him to change images in two of his books, Morfar är sjörövare (Grandpa Is a Pirate) and Ta fast Fabian (Catch Fabian).
The first title, which was published in 1966, sees a boy and his grandfather set out to steal the treasure of an evil pirate named Omar, while the second features an image of a man in a tribal costume.
Lööf told Dagens Nyheter that he had been given an ultimatum – either change certain illustrations in the books or they would be pulled from sale.
In Scandinavia there are no taboos when it comes to writing, even for children and young people. Books for teens exploring sexuality with explicit language are not censored. It’s so normal for us. There is nothing I can’t cover as a teen writer and I know my publisher would stand by me no matter what.
Here are a couple of examples to explain what I mean. The book Fittekvote by Axel Hellstenius and Morten Skårdal, about young girls in the military, won a literature prize in 2011. It would be called “Cunt Quota” if translated into English.
Another book, Tjuven (“The Thief”) by Rune Belsvik, is aimed at children around eight years old. In it, the main character, Jolver, learns how to masturbate from his friend Bob. The friend tells him how it’s good to touch yourself while looking at naked women in a magazine. I can’t quite see this happening in the UK… yet.
In Scandinavia, and in Norway in particular, it’s possible to make a living as a YA author, even if you aren’t a bestseller. It’s OK to write a debut novel, fail and still get another chance. My debut book was published in 1998 – it was a decent debut, promising, said the critics. The most inspiring sentence was, as I still recall it: “Ingelin Røssland has written her first novel but it will not be the last”. I took it as a sign that I had potential to grow and improve. So I kept on writing and book by book I reached out to more young readers.
In 2006 and 2007 I started to win awards and my books started to be translated, first into German, then French and now, with Minus Me, in English. To be published in English feels like a miracle, but in reality it is hard work. Having a publisher that believed in me really helped, letting me write the books that I felt I needed to write, not what the market wanted. This has been a huge privilege for me and many other Norwegian writers such as Jostein Gaarder, who wrote the bestseller Sophie’s World, Johan Harstad, who wrote the brilliant sci-fi/horror novel 172 Hours on the Moon and Lene Ask, whose beautiful graphic novel Dear Richard was recently published in English.
The Children of Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren, translated by Susan Beard.
This is a new translation with new illustrations by Tony Ross.
Its chapter book presentation makes it an appealing gift for a newly independent reader aged 6-9.
The chapter titles themselves give a good indication of the story content and atmosphere:
All of us Noisy Village Children
Brothers Are Difficult
My Best Birthday Ever
More Fun On My Birthday
We Break Up For Summer
We Thin Out The Turnips And Get A Kitten
How Ollie Got His Dog
It’s Fun Habing Your Own Pet But A Granddad Is Also Good