Rabén & Sjögren, 2014.
Reviewed by Charlotte Berry in SBR 2015:1
Review Section: Children's Fiction
Picture-book author Barbro Lindgren is one of Sweden’s best-loved children’s writers, yet – apart from Methuen’s publication in the mid-1980s of her two seminal series Max (Sam in the English version) and Wild Baby (illustrated by Eva Eriksson) – she remains almost unknown in the UK. In 2014 Lindgren’s contribution to children’s literature was rewarded by the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and an August Prize shortlisting for this title. Illustrator Eva Lindström is Barbro Lindgren’s equal in terms of cultural standing in Sweden and it is perhaps surprising that this title is their very first creative collaboration.
Nu leker vi den fula ankungen offers a new perspective on Hans Christian Andersen’s Danish fairy tale The Ugly Duckling. ‘Let’s play Ugly Duckling’ recounts the well-known narrative from the viewpoint of two children acting through the story. The familiar themes of rejection, discovery, self-acceptance and celebration are presented through the two narrators’ exchanges. All the parts are taken in turn, with a simple and direct child-like dialogue presented as direct speech: ‘Let’s play Ugly Duckling.’ ‘Yes, I’ll be the Ugly Duckling.’ ‘No, I’ll be him. You can be Mummy Duck.’
The child-narrator voices entirely shape the matter-of-fact and detached general tone of the work. This narrative device is complemented by Lindström’s naive illustrations, which favour primary school-style depictions of the ugly duckling, the mother duck, her multitude of duckling offspring and the other bullying birds on the pond. A close-up perspective and pale-coloured washes of grey and brown and finally black to mirror the emotional turmoil of the ugly duckling give way to glorious yellows at the moment of transformation, and finally to a calming blue on the triumphant return to the home pond and an admiring Mummy Duck. This book will appeal to those looking for an unusual retelling of a world classic, this time by two children playing ‘Let’s Pretend’.