Saturday, December 17, 2011

Children of the Soil: A Story of Scandinavia, by Nora Burglon

This might seem an odd choice to get my "favorite" label, since there's very little conflict in the book and no excessive excitement, either. But this book is marvelous in its simplicity, and I have a fondness for books about poor children who nonetheless live happy and rich lives because they have wonderful family and a life free from unnecessary complications (if that makes any sense). They're just kids being kids- the kind of kids who stay out of trouble and might get ignored by most but are actually pretty awesome.

Nicolina and her younger brother Guldklumpen live with their mother, Olina, in northern Sweden. Their father was a sailor who never returned from sea, and it's unknown whether he'll ever return (and remains unknown at the end of the book). They are a family of crofters (essentially tenant farmers) but since they are without a man in the household, they are exempted from providing a crop for the Colonel. Instead, Olina is responsible for doing the weaving for the big house, and paying an annual rent for her property. She and the children all work their property to bring in enough crop to last them and their goats through the winter, and Olina sells goat cheeses at the market. It's a reasonably simple life and although they more or less accept their place in the world, the children are occasionally chafed by the fact that blessings often seem to come to the rich, who have no need of them, leaving little or nothing for those who have the most need.

At the start of our story, it is Easter, and although eating eggs on Easter is a tradition, our family has none. The two children notice that it does seem unfair that the tradition is kept at the big house, where eggs are nothing out of the ordinary anyway, and Nicolina remarks that it's probably because there is a tomte (much like a gnome, from what I'm able to gather) living on the property and bringing good fortune. Guldklumpen notes that his purported home on the Colonel's property isn't remotely an attractive one, and decides to build a more attractive tomte house on their own property to lure him. He finds an old sea chest washed up from the ocean, and fills it with hay, and decorates around it with spruce boughs. And with that, their fortune begins to slowly change over the course of the following year.

We follow Nicolina and Guldklumpen through their annual traditions, marketing, and school, and by next Easter we find them generally unchanged, but with more comforts. It really is a happy little book, and although the children suffer small injustices and disappointments, no real misfortune comes to them.

It sounds as if the author herself was also an awesomely incredible woman. I am linking to a website that provides a brief biography; I'd love to read more of her works now. Here is the link.

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