Picture Book Snob
A delightful adventure from Sweden's Beatrix Potter
The Sun Egg by Elsa Beskow, Floris Books
"There once was a small elf who lived in a hollow tree in the woods. She loved dancing. In the spring, she danced a welcome-back-sun dance; in the autumn, a swirling-yellow-leaves dance and in the winter, a falling-snow dance. She would dance until she was so tired that she would crawl into her tree and fall asleep. In the summer, there was so much happening and so many interesting things to watch that she didn't have much time for dancing.
All the birds in the wood were her friends. If she saw an egg that had fallen out of its nest, lying on the moss, she would carry it up to the mother bird as quickly as she could. The birds were all very fond of her and they sang their most beautiful songs whenever she was near. One day, when she was exploring in the wood, she saw something large, round and yellow, lying on the ground..."
A little elf finds an orange, and never having seen one before, believes it to be an egg laid by the sun. We meet a host of forest creatures who attempt to solve the mystery of its origins and decide what should be done with it. When the elf discovers what this peculiar object actually is, her new-found knowledge sends her on an amazing, life-changing adventure.
The illustrations are exquisite; hand-painted watercolours celebrating nature, with black and white vignettes decorating the text. Influenced by Art Nouveau, they possess a delicate beauty and an ethereal quality. There's lots of humour in this story, from how perplexed the characters are by the orange, to the happy frog and her restaurant (where it's forbidden for guests to eat one another) and the unfortunate fate of the greedy crow. With her wonderful characters and intricate images, Beskow creates a fully immersive fairy tale world.
The Sun Egg was originally published in 1932 and is written and illustrated by Elsa Beskow, who is often referred to as the Swedish Beatrix Potter. Beskow sounds like a fascinating and incredibly inspirational person. She wrote and illustrated over 40 children's books and her work supported her six children and her husband. One of my favourite bookshops, Tales for Tadpoles, has a brilliant piece about Beskow on their blog which includes the following quote from Beskow's son:
"How did she find the time to work with her picture books! She had to produce one a year in order to support the family… We understood that father’s work was important; he was not to be disturbed, but mother only drew and painted – it was fun and we could disturb her as much as we wished. Mother was always available; she didn’t have her own work room, she wrote and drew at a large white table in the parlour. Everything and everyone in the house that moved passed by there, someone always needed her help with something."
I bought The Sun Egg about six months ago when my girls were three-and-a-half and five-and-a-half. It was intended more as a gift for me than a book to be enjoyed by my children. When it arrived, I presumed they would find it a little too long and that it might be a slightly old-fashioned for them. To my surprise, they both loved this story and were highly amused by the frogs, the crow, and the grumpy old gnome, Crooked-Root.
I love how this lets the reader in on little secrets, with a note on how the egg made it's way into the forest in the first place at the end. There's also a line from the author that states: "So if, one day, you find an orange that is a bit dry, don't get too cross. Perhaps the elf has been drinking from it, and I'm sure you wouldn't mind if she had a sip or two of your juice." Both of these introduce ordinary events to which young people can relate, enriching the story and making it feel more real. These elements also prompt children to consider what could happen to items they themselves lose and the reasons certain things they eat might sometimes taste unpleasant. This causes the story to live on, and inspires new narratives of their own creation, in the imaginations of little readers.
I found The Sun Egg on the Tales for Tadpoles website after seeing some images from Beskow's work on their Instagram page. Tales for Tadpoles is an independent bookshop that specialises in children's books. They have a fantastic selection of Beskow's books and lots of other classics, as well as merchandise featuring children's literature. Tales for Tadpoles often has exclusive signed copies for sale too - I bought a signed Shirley Hughes cookbook in January. The owner, Caroline, is a friend and former colleague of mine, a children's books expert and a lovely person too. Tales for Tadpoles is the perfect place to find beautiful books and support small independent businesses at the same time.
Read more about intriguing author Elsa Beskow, including her involvement with the Swedish Women's Movement, on the Floris Books website The Sun Egg by Elsa Beskow is published by Floris Books - see this book on the publisher's website