REVIEW: Pija Lindenbaum books

I must be the only one left, but I have only just discovered Pija Lindenbaum’s wonderful books. In particular, I love Mini Mia and her Darling Uncle (R&S, 2007), as well as Bridget and the Gray Wolves (R&S, 2001). Are parents repeatedly asking you for “behavior” or “emotion” books? Look no further than these imported Swedish picture book titles.

Bridget and the Gray Wolves is about Bridget, a “very careful child.” She doesn’t have many experiences or adventures: she won’t pet a dog – it could bite her; she won’t jump a ditch – she could fall and scrape her knee. When she wanders too far from her day care group, she becomes lost in the woods. She befriends a pack of wolves, and plays games with them. The only trouble is that the wolves don’t want to play games that are dangerous. But they soon get over their fear as Bridget leads them in all kinds of rollicking activities. In the end, she leaves the wolves with the promise of more adventures to come.

There are two things that are so brilliant about this book. The first thing is the abundance of cleverness – my appreciation of European humor makes me suspect, once again, that I may be living in the wrong country. I love that Bridget’s sweatshirt is not-so-subtly red. I love that Bridget tells the wolves they have to go to the bathroom before bed and “they obediently go to their pee trees” (with an illustration of 6 wolves peeing on different trees). Kids love all that peeing – can’t you hear their squeals? I love Bridget’s line when she first sees the wolves hiding behind the trees: “Come on out! Bridget shouts. “I am a child who has lost her day care.” Every moment seems perfectly crafted and not a moment feels wasted. The other thing that is so brilliant is its total un-American-ness. Of course kids are jumping off the roof of their playhouse. Of course they’re jumping through a ditch with muddy water. Of course they’re picking up gross trash from the ground. I don’t think you’d see all that dangerous stuff happening at our playgrounds and day cares – it’s all about the kids being “safe”, after all. Lastly, you aren’t thwonked over the head with the idea that Bridget learned a lesson. The change is implied. The author trusts the reader’s intelligence. It leaves it open-ended so you can have that discussion with a child about how (or if) Bridget became more brave, more adventurous. Granted, the very last page has a small illustration of Bridget standing on top of the playhouse. But again, it’s not a THWONK…it’s more like, “Aaaaah, see? All’s right with the world.” American children’s literature isn’t subtle, as a general rule.

Lindenbaum’s latest is Mini Mia and Her Darling Uncle. Ella’s cool Uncle Tommy calls her “Mini Mia” because her favorite soccer player is Mia Hamm. As opposed to Ella’s other uncles, Tommy does fun things with Ella: dying her hair a different color everyday, listening to music, people-watching, jumping on both feet wherever they go. One day, though, “someone is sitting in Tommy’s kitchen.” It’s Tommy’s significant other, Fergus. Suddenly Mia is thrown into a fit of jealousy (she doesn’t identify it as such, of course) and she turns sulky and grouchy. It isn’t until Tommy gets sick that Mia discovers Fergus is really good at soccer and she warms to him.

Again, the things that made Bridget so brilliant are also prevalent here. The humor is fantastic. Ella’s other uncles? “I’m pretty sure my other uncles work in offices. Tommy doesn’t.” Ella’s sullen expression is spot-on…and hilarious. But the best part is a full-page spread with Ella laying like a zombie on the bed. Here’s the text:

Now no one is allowed to talk to me,
And I don’t want any dinner – just a little bit of jam.
I’m never going to hang out with Tommy again.
I’m just going to lie here. Bored stiff.

How hilarious is that?!

My only issue is my sense of dread over the fact that there will be librarians and library users who throw a fit over the Tommy/Fergus relationship. And to top it all off, there’s a locker room scene with a nearly naked Ella and the naked bum of another woman changing. Siiiiigh. I really don’t want to get going on a rant about this. I’m sure you can guess my thoughts.

Again, can I move to Stockholm? Or at the very least talk to Ms. Lindenbaum about how much I love her books?

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