The Summer Book was the first book I read by the world-renowned children’s writer and illustrator Tove Jansson. The Summer Book, which I bought by trusting both the name, the cover and the author’s reputation, did not make me miss the summer months or the sun. It is entirely my fault that I started reading this book with such expectations without reviewing the book, I admit. But the unexpected thing was that as soon as I started reading the book, I realised very clearly – again – that I didn’t want children.
The Summer Book takes place on a small island in Finland. The book is about the volatile relationship between a six-year-old girl and her grandmother, and as the reader, we also get to see the life on the island. Unfortunately, we see very little of summer in the North, as the weather isn’t charming for heat-loving people. However, life can come alive with the storms, exciting guests and cats.
Generally, the relations between grandchild and grandmother always make me emotional, but in this book, I found myself not wanting to read a word about children, let alone being emotional. My efforts to learn more about neither the island, grandma, nor Finland were to no avail. I forcibly read the book. The author is a massive fanbase with her children’s books, so I plan to read them, but I don’t think I will ever read a book she wrote for adults from now on.
The Summer Book
In The Summer Book Tove Jansson distills the essence of the summer—its sunlight and storms—into twenty-two crystalline vignettes. This brief novel tells the story of Sophia, a six-year-old girl awakening to existence, and Sophia’s grandmother, nearing the end of hers, as they spend the summer on a tiny unspoiled island in the Gulf of Finland.
The grandmother is unsentimental and wise, if a little cranky; Sophia is impetuous and volatile, but she tends to her grandmother with the care of a new parent. Together they amble over coastline and forest in easy companionship, build boats from bark, create a miniature Venice, write a fanciful study of local bugs. They discuss things that matter to young and old alike: life, death, the nature of God and of love. “On an island,” thinks the grandmother, “everything is complete.” In The Summer Book, Jansson creates her own complete world, full of the varied joys and sorrows of life.
Tove Jansson, whose Moomintroll comic strip and books brought her international acclaim, lived for much of her life on an island like the one described in The Summer Book, and the work can be enjoyed as her closely observed journal of the sounds, sights, and feel of a summer spent in intimate contact with the natural world.
The Summer Book is translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal.
Tove Jansson, in full Tove Marika Jansson, (born August 9, 1914, Helsinki, Finland, Russian Empire—died June 27, 2001, Helsinki, Finland), Finnish artist and writer-illustrator of children’s books (in Swedish). In her books she created the fantastic self-contained world of Moomintrolls, popular especially in northern and central Europe, although translations in more than 30 languages have provided a worldwide audience.
Jansson was the daughter of artists, and her illustrations began appearing in children’s magazines when she was a teenager. She studied painting in Stockholm, had her first exhibition in 1943, and worked for a time as a children’s book illustrator. In Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (1945; “The Moomins and the Great Flood”) she introduced her hippopotamus-like creatures.
The work was praised for its individualistic characters, complicated plots, and sophisticated humour, and eight other Moomin books followed. Jansson also created the comic strip “Moomin,” which ran in the Evening News in London from 1953 to 1960. She won the Stockholm Award for best children’s books in 1952, the Selma Lagerlöf Medal in 1953, the International Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 1966, and many other honours. Jansson also wrote an autobiography, Bild-huggarens dotter (1968; Sculptor’s Daughter), short stories, plays, and adult fiction.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: