I am a sucker for all things Moomin. I was brought up with the books and loved losing myself in their world. Well, compared to early seventies Luton, it wasn’t much of a contest.
But Tove Jansson has much more to offer. For the young, there are the Moomin books; for the adults, there are her very good short stories (and one or two good novels).
And for children on the edge of growing up, there are two books: The Summer Book and A Winter Book. The former is a set of stories based around a little girl’s summers with her grandmother on an island; the latter a collection of short stories about growing up.
I lent A Winter Book to one pupil last year: she was ready for it. Most notably, she was ready for ‘The boat and me’, one of the most moving coming-of-age stories I have ever read. Here is an extract:
I go slowly, hugging the shore, into each creek and out round each headland; I mustn’t miss anything out because it’s a ritual. Now I’m about to see my territory from the sea for the first time, that’s important.
I pulled up the anchor-stone and rowed straight out into the path of the moon. Of course the moon’s path is lovely as a picture in calm weather, but when it’s rough, it’s even more beautiful, all splinters and flakes from precious stones like sailing through a sea set with diamonds.
And at that very moment Dad turned up…
If I offer your child this book, it’s because she or he, too, is ready.
Tove Jansson was the daughter of artists; she was herself an artist, as was her lifelong partner, Tuulikki Pietilä. She had an extraordinary life, and the worlds she created are as extraordinary. Her prose seems to reflect the pared back style of her art: no word is unnecessary, every word carries weight. It makes for hard reading at times, but it is always worthwhile.