For a country with a population of just 300,000, Iceland does a phenomenal job of publishing books. According to a BBC News Magazine article, Iceland “has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world.”
Finding Icelandic picture books in English, however, has proved to be something of a challenge. There are hundreds of exciting-looking titles out there. Just take a peek at the Icelandic Literature Center website and you’ll see. And these books do travel outside their home nation, too. In 2017, children’s and YA titles from Iceland sold to 17 countries, including China, Germany and the UAE, but only two went to an English-speaking nation: the USA. And this seems to have been the standard pattern in recent years.
There are a couple of notable exceptions, however. Author/illustrator Brian Pilkington, originally from the UK but now also an Icelandic citizen, has published a series of very popular picture books on trolls. And let’s not forget Maximus Musicus, a musical mouse and star of the Icelandic children’s franchise of the same name. Maxi, as he is often called, features in books, CDs, concert programmes and more.
I am excited to share one of Brian Pilkington’s troll titles with you on this picture book journey, as well as the first book in the Maximus Musicus series.
A fortnight before Christmas by Brian Pilkington (Mál og menning, 2014; this edition, 2016)
Maximus Musicus visits the orchestra by Hallfríður Ólafsdóttir, illustrated by Þórarinn Már Baldursson, translated by Daði Kolbeinsson (first published in Icelandic by Forlagið hf., 2008; this edition Music Word Media Group, 2012)
I hope that picture books by other Icelandic authors/illustrators will be available in the English-speaking world in the near future. Here are two of the names that caught my eye during my research:
Bergrún Íris Sævarsdóttir has illustrated over 25 children’s books. Her first title as an author/illustrator, Vinur minn, vindurinn (My friend, the wind) was published in 2014 and nominated for the Icelandic Women’s Literature Prize 2015 and the Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize 2015. She has since published two additional picture books, both of which look delightful.
Áslaug Jónsdóttir is an award-winning children’s author/illustrator. Amongst other work, she is one of three authors from three different Nordic countries responsible for the Monsters series, nine picture books that focus on human relationships and the challenges we all face in life. You can read a fascinating interview with her about picture books, illustrations and collaborating on Monsters here.[Image: Safnahúsið, made available under a creative commons licence. Source: flickr.com This imposing building was constructed between 1906-1908 to house Iceland’s National Library and National Archives. Both have since moved to new locations.]