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Jag, Fidel och Skogen Lena Frölander-Ulf, Jag, Fidel och Skogen (Me, Fidel and the Forest)

Schildts & Söderströms,  2016.

Reviewed by Charlotte Berry in SBR 2017:1

Review Section: Fiction for Children and Young People

This sumptuous picture book, which came out in Finland in March 2016 as a Finnish and Swedish-language co-edition, is written and illustrated by Lena Frölander-Ulf, a Swedish- speaking Finn (born 1976) based in Helsinki. The author has a wide range of creative interests, as a writer, illustrator, watercolourist, graphic artist, art teacher, exhibitor and youth theatre worker. She has written and illustrated another picture book and has illustrated picture books by Zacharius Topelius and Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo, all published by Schildts & Söderströms.

The narrative of Jag, Fidel och Skogen is presented solely from the viewpoint of the hero of the tale, a young boy living with his mother in a forest hut on an island. The snugness of their home, with its candles, rugs and warmth, contrasts sharply with the outside world, which is dark, threatening, and full of sea, wind and forest – all the things which the mother loves and her son fears.

The hero is forced to venture out into the forest to find a safe place to wee.His journey through the forest with his dog Fidel is filled with adventure and magic. His torch falters, an owl shrieks and he is left alone in the darkness. As the boy’s eyes adjust, a fantastical world emerges into his vision. He rescues a tree from an axe left at its roots, and loses and finds Fidel. He falls into conversation with a bored fiddle-playing water nymph and resists the temptation to swap the forest for an underwater world beneath the lilypads. Friendly fireflies lead him to the house of the irritable mountain troll Gargatula, who is leaving her home to find somewhere quieter to live in the forest. For the first time, the boy can appreciate the life in the forest and look upwards, high into the brilliant shining stars, meteorites and satellite trails.The darkness is full of light and he is no longer afraid.

Frölander-Ulf’s illustrations are ingeniously layered up in a triple- decker visual effect. First the sketches are created by scraping into a black foundation layer which reveals a white and silver background in sharp contrast to the remainder of the black background. Then the drawings are re-executed for a second time in watercolour. Finally the watercolour shapes, the sketch marks of the scraped figures and the black background are merged through digital collage techniques. It’s a clever and effective method, resulting in an unusual and striking visual impact. The colour palette of the book is predominantly black, but off-set with shades of pale green, brown, yellow and blue which give a muted effect against the stark contrast of the black and white text blocks. The technique combines and contrasts boldness and delicacy, blocks of colour and intricate details, the quirky and the unexpected.

This is not a typical troll tale from the north, full of beasties, ghouls and gloom. Rather, it is a thought-provoking exploration of confronting fears and preconceptions through encounters with whimsical forest folk and a homely troll in want of a quiet hearth. It makes for an enchanting winter read by the fireside, suitable for five to six-year-olds with an active imagination!

Other reviews by Charlotte Berry

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