It seems that this winter we're all going hygge (pronounced “hooga”). And why shouldn’t we? When it comes to enjoying the cold-weather season we can learn a lot from the Danish tradition of coziness and the heart-warming joy of spending time with people we love.
As it happens, Scandinavian literature often makes the best choice for quality family winter entertainment. Think sledding with the inhabitants of Astrid Lindgren's "The Children of Noisy Village," or seeing the first snow in Tove Jansson's Moominvalley. Add to that some warm blankets, cozy lights, and a cup of warm cocoa and you have a simple recipe for the perfect winter evening. Here's my family’s selection of the best winter reads by authors from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland. These countries each have a great tradition of quality children's literature that is not at all childish and can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.
Hans Christian Andersen is probably the one Danish author we've all heard about, but his original tales are somewhat different than the Disney productions we might be familiar with. They don't always have happy endings and often tackle difficult subjects: hardship, loneliness, sickness, and death. Don't let that dissuade you, though! Andersen’s tales are beautiful and gentle.
The wide spectrum of issues he wrote about reflects the attitude of the Danish people who look at life realistically and are not afraid to discuss difficult or sensitive issues with children. Andersen’s tales are ever popular in Denmark as well as in many other countries around the world. Reading them together with your children could help them build empathy and develop the ability to deal with a whole range of emotions. And I can assure you that children will appreciate the honesty and the beauty of the stories. Our favorite winter tales are "The Snow Queen," (quite obvious – this one), "The Fir Tree," "The Little Matchgirl," "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," "The Snow Man," and, "Ole the Tower-Keeper."
Astrid Lindgren is the pioneer of children’s literature in Sweden. Her books remain hugely popular even now, 70 years after her first story was published. Best known for her Pippi Longstocking series, Lindgren has written over 70 children books so you can choose your favorites among many different characters and themes. My girls absolutely love Pippi and would be happy to copy this independent and outrageous girl in whatever she did, but our favorite cozy winter reading is “The Children of Noisy Village.”
Originally published in three parts, this lovely book follows the everyday life and adventures of six children living in the village of Bullerbyn. The village portrayed in the book is a perfect place from a child's perspective: the children run wild and free, walk through the forest and swim in the lake, and the grown-ups hardly interfere with their games; but it’s not idealized. The sweet-looking babies turn out to be naughty, the older brother is bossy, and the children play and fight with each other – just as in real life.
We follow the adventures through all the seasons, but I think the winter is especially appealing with its play in the snow and horse-led sleds and Christmas preparation... It makes you want to move to a log cabin in the Swedish woods and be a child again! There are lots of other great children's books published in Sweden and translated into other languages, and in our home we have one more Swedish favorite: “When Dad Showed Me the Universe” by Ulf Stark. “One day Dad said he thought I was old enough for him to show me the universe...” the story begins. But was little Ulf really old enough to appreciate it? Could his father really understand it?
This beautifully illustrated book is funny and poignant, poetic and realistic, and I guess just as the universe can be understood differently by Ulf and his dad, so this story can be read differently and enjoyed for different reasons by parents and children. I love reading it to my children, but I do admit that sometimes I read it just for myself – it’s lovely.
Looking at the bookshelves in my children’s room it suddenly struck me how many books by Norwegian authors we have! There’s Jostein Gaarder, Thorbjorn Egner, Anne-Cath. Vestly, Alf Proysen... these might not be the names that first come to mind when thinking of children’s authors, but their books have proven to be the real favorites, especially for cozy winter reading. “When the Robbers Came to Cardamom Town” by Throrbjorn Egner is a charming, humorous story of what happened when the three robbers – and their pet lion – came to the town of Cardamom and how it all ended well, for the robbers as well as for the townsfolk.
There are lots of delightful characters here: from old Tobias, who prognoses the weather, to the policeman who never arrested anyone, and an Aunt who gets kidnapped by the robbers, but after dealing with her for just a little while they change their mind and give her back. There are quite a lot of funny songs in the book. “The Song of the Talking Camel” is my family’s favorite, and in our edition of the book there were some notes provided, but as we can’t really read music we just made up our own tunes – great fun! Alf Proysen's series depicting the adventures of Mrs. Pepperpot are beautifully illustrated by Hilda Offen, which adds a lot to their charm. The stories of the shrinking old lady are full of humor and great for sharing with the little ones. Our favorite winter story from the series is “Mrs. Pepperpot and the Treasure,” but you might also enjoy “Mrs. Pepperpot's Christmas,” and “Mrs. Pepperpot in the Magic Wood.”
Anne-Cath. Vestly wrote a lovely series of books about a family of eight children who first live in a one room flat in a big city, but then move into a cottage in the woods and live there happily – and very sustainably. There are nine volumes in the series, but only the first one, “Eight Children and a Truck,” was translated into English and published a long time ago. If you find a vintage copy of this book call yourself lucky and prepare for some great family entertainment and adventures hygge-style.
My children might be too little yet for the books of Jostein Gaarder, but I'm already looking forward to sharing the philosophical tales of this well-known Norwegian philosopher-writer with my daughters. Gaarder’s bestseller, “Sophie’s World,” is an exciting blend of mystery and philosophy – and I guess the best introduction to the history of philosophy for young readers. But really all of Gaarder’s books are like that. In each of his novels you’d find fantasy and mystery and some philosophical question to ponder – just what I want from my winter’s read. Best for the season, apart from “Sophie’s World,” are, “The Christmas Mystery,” and “Through a Glass, Darkly.”
I used to love Tove Jansson’s Moomins as a child – both the books and the animated series. I was thrilled to share them with my children but wondered if they would love it the same? They do, and I’ve rediscovered those beautiful stories for myself.
It feels great to once again visit the idyllic Moomin Valley and listen to the words of wisdom from Moomin Mamma, the Snufkin, or Too-Ticky. Too-Ticky is the best person, or character actually, to turn to if you are not quite keen on winter. She loves winter and does not hibernate like most of the Moomin Valley residents, but remains active and optimistic through the cold season helping the Moomintroll survive and enjoy his sleepless winter. “Moominland Midwinter,” the book in which we meet Too-Ticky, but also the Lady of the Cold, and the Groke, is my family’s favorite winter read.
We happily read it again and again each year. There's always something to discover in Jansson’s books and to me it reads like good poetry. But don’t think that the Moomin series is too serious for children – there is enough adventure and humor to entertain the little ones. So whether it's books read quietly together while snuggled under a blanket or a joyful celebration with all the good people in your life, look to the spirit of hygge to guide you in the right direction this winter.