Author: Astrid Lindgren
Artist: Harald Wiberg
Paperback, 32 pages
Reading Level: Ages 4-8
Publisher: Paper Star
Publication date: September 1997
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Astrid Lindgren is best known in the United States for her books about Pippi Longstocking, the irrepressible little girl with the red braids. However, she also adapted, from a Viktor Rydberg poem, a tale about a tomten.
What exactly is a tomten? Nordic folklore has spirits associated with virtually every natural feature or site associated with human activity, including houses and farms. Popular depictions of gnomes fit fairly well with how these latter spirits are envisioned.
My first exposure to The Tomten was when my first grade teacher read it to our class. I remember listening to her soft, sweet voice read the story, and being perfectly content. This particular tomten is associated with a farm, and the reader follows him on a long wintry night as he makes his rounds. He visits all the inhabitants of the farm (human and animal), tends the animals, and generally sees that all is well.
It was one of those books that stay with you, and I was curious enough to pick it up in a bookstore as an adult. Much to my delight, I found that it was as charming a story as I remembered.
This book is an institution in Sweden, and well it should be. It is prettily written, and endearingly illustrated. There is repetition of language in the way that young children find soothing, but not so as to bore adults.
It is a book steeped in winter, and might be a good story to make part of your Yuletide tradition, yet another way of making the season special and full of magic. In short, this book is highly recommended, and happily, is widely available at a reasonable price.
Additional Notes of Interest
There is also a sequel called The Tomten and the Fox available.
Viktor Rydberg, the author of the original poem that inspired this book, was a noted author and scholar in 19th century Sweden. Among other works, he produced a book on Nordic mythology that contains his highly personalized perspective on the Norse mythos. This work could be best compared to Robert Graves' The White Goddess, interesting, but to be read as poetic inspiration, not as a scholarly work.
Web site, possibly of interest about The Tomten and Viktor Rydberg: http://www.lib.chalmers.se/cthb/system/engtomten.html
Reviewed by Janna