#30Authors has been going on all month long on book blogs around the Internet bringing you authors’ favorite recent reads. Have you been following along and adding all these gems to your to-read stack? I was happy to host Vanessa Hua who introduces us to Grace, a poignant historical fiction about slavery from debut author Natashia Deon. And I’m back again today hosting Russian Author Olga Grushin, who brings us a charming series of kids’ books from Finnish Author Tove Jansson which are perfect for helping me in my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge Goals and knocking out my book bucket list item to read 1,000 books with my kids. If you read more with your kids than you have for yourself like Olga and I have lately, you’ll want to check out the fun Moomin series that Olga is recommending today. So please help me welcome Olga to Mom’s Small Victories!
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But First…What is #30Authors, You Ask?
#30Authors is an event started by The Book Wheel that connects readers, bloggers, and authors. In it, 30 authors review their favorite recent reads on 30 blogs in 30 days. It takes place annually during the month of September and has been met with incredible support from and success in the literary community. It has also been turned into an anthology*, which is currently available on Amazon and all author proceeds go to charity. Previous #30Authors contributors include Celeste Ng, Cynthia Bond, Brian Panowich, and M.O. Walsh. To see this year’s full line-up, visit www.thebookwheelblog.com/30authorsor follow along on Twitter @30Authors.
About The Moomin Books by Tove Jansson
Synopsis of Moominland Midwinter (Olga’s favorite) from Goodreads:
This children’s story is one of a series of books about the Moomins that blend magic, humour and adventure in the setting of the small, but ever-changing Moominvalley.
The Complete Moomin Series:
- Find #1: The Moomins and the Great Flood on Goodreads | Buy on Amazon*
- Find #2: Comet in Moominland on Goodreads | Buy on Amazon*
- Find #3: Finn Family Moomintroll on Goodreads | Buy on Amazon*
- Find #4: Moominpappa’s Memoirs on Goodreads | Buy on Amazon*
- Find #5: Moominsummer Madness on Goodreads | Buy on Amazon*
- Find #6: Moominland Midwinter on Goodreads | Buy on Amazon*
- Find #7: Tales from Moominvalley on Goodreads | Buy on Amazon*
- Find #8: Moominpappa at Sea on Goodreads | Buy on Amazon*
- Find #9: Moominvalley in November on Goodreads | Buy on Amazon*
Find more about Finnish Author Tove Jansson on Goodreads
Celebrating the Best Things in Life with the Moomin Series of Children’s Books by Tove Jansson
Review written by Author Olga Grushin
This year has been an odd one for my reading: with so much writing and research occupying my time, my fiction quota has been filled, almost entirely, by the children’s books I read nightly to my kids. I opt for stories I myself loved as a child; and while, not surprisingly, some of them seem a bit flat and one-dimensional to my adult eyes, the Moomin books by Tove Jansson have proved every bit as wonderful now as they were three decades ago.
The series has eight novels, a collection of short stories, and a number of picture books and comic strips, all of them highly popular in Europe but less known here. Jansson was born in Finland in 1914, and her artistic family – her mother was an illustrator, her father a sculptor, their house a bohemian haven always open to everyone – inspired her Moominvalley and its inhabitants. The Moomins are white furry hippopotamus-like creatures with peaceful, fun-loving ways who live with their friends in a verdant valley between the sea and mountains, and have many adventures. The adventures themselves tend to be simple, consisting of friendly encounters, summer picnics, scavenger hunts, and journeys of exploration. In “Moominpappa at Sea,” for example, the family goes to live on a remote island where nothing much happens, and in an even more minimalistic “Moominland Midwinter” (my personal favorite), Moomintroll wakes up in the middle of winter, and, unlike his hibernating family, is unable to go back to sleep, then spends the rest of the book simply learning to accept the strange new world of the dark and the cold. There is a bit of magic, to be sure, as well as a healthy dose of natural disasters, danger, and excitement, but most of the events are of an ordinary, daily nature, yet they never fail to fill the Moomins with wonder and joy. And it is precisely this sense of quiet and rich familiarity that makes these books so deeply special amidst the standard vampire/demigod/wizard fare of the day. Simply put, these stories celebrate the best things in life – family, friendship, openness to new things and new people, love of beauty and nature – and they do so with much subtle humor and effortless charm.
To an adult reader, the books hold many pleasures. No other children’s series I know has such a wealth of recognizable types, except possibly “Winnie-the-Pooh,” and Jansson’s characters have the additional benefit of being gentle parodies of artists and intellectuals, endlessly entertaining to me as a writer. Moominpappa is penning down his memoirs in flowery prose and always cornering hapless family members into listening to him read from the manuscript; Snufkin the musician despises authority, gets nervous at the thought of material possessions, and likes to wander the world alone with nothing but his old shapeless hat and trusty mouth organ; Muskrat the philosopher pontificates on the “Uselessness of Everything” while enjoying, indeed demanding, his creature comforts. But the heart of the books is equally accessible to both adults and children – the loving Moominmamma, who happily cooks pancakes for a never-ending procession of new arrivals and carries a handbag that has everything needed for any emergency, her son Moomintroll, who is forever curious and kind, and Little My, a tiny creature of great spirit and independence.
And where a child will delight in their adventures, an adult will note their marvelous attitude toward mishaps and disasters. It is worth reading the books for this lighthearted wisdom alone, for there are lessons here for all of us – one feels that the Moomins’ priorities are exactly as they should be. When their kitchen gets flooded and they have to dive for breakfast, dodging chairs that float near the ceiling, Moominmamma bursts out laughing: “It felt very refreshing to see one’s kitchen like that”; and when a swarm of visitors departs with most of the household’s furnishings, she notes, “It makes cleaning very much simpler.” “All things are so very uncertain,” says another character, “and that’s exactly what makes me feel reassured.” After having learned what he learned during his sleepless winter, Moomin chooses not to cover a budding crocus with a glass jar: “Let it fight it out,” he says. “I believe it’s going to do still better if things aren’t so easy.”
There is, in fact, a vein of stoic philosophy that runs through these books, which is very Scandinavian, a little dark, and, I believe, wonderfully good for children, and I am immensely gratified to find that the Moomin stories have become my kids’ absolute favorites. In truth, I would love nothing more than for their childhood to resemble the accepting, adventurous, joyous world of the Moomin family – and for my daughter to be fierce and fiery like Little My (though I do teach her not to bite strangers she happens to dislike) and for my son to be loyal, gentle, and brave like Moomin.
About Author Olga Grushin from Goodreads:
Synopsis of Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin from Goodreads:
The internationally acclaimed author of The Dream Life of Sukhanov now returns to gift us with Forty Rooms, which outshines even that prizewinning novel.
Totally original in conception and magnificently executed, Forty Rooms is mysterious, withholding, and ultimately emotionally devastating. Olga Grushin is dealing with issues of women’s identity, of women’s choices, that no modern novel has explored so deeply.
“Forty rooms” is a conceit: it proposes that a modern woman will inhabit forty rooms in her lifetime. They form her biography, from childhood to death. For our protagonist, the much-loved child of a late marriage, the first rooms she is aware of as she nears the age of five are those that make up her family’s Moscow apartment. We follow this child as she reaches adolescence, leaves home to study in America, and slowly discovers sexual happiness and love. But her hunger for adventure and her longing to be a great poet conspire to kill the affair. She seems to have made her choice. But one day she runs into a college classmate. He is sure of his path through life, and he is protective of her. (He is also a great cook.) They drift into an affair and marriage. What follows are the decades of births and deaths, the celebrations, material accumulations, and home comforts—until one day, her children grown and gone, her husband absent, she finds herself alone except for the ghosts of her youth, who have come back to haunt and even taunt her.
Compelling and complex, Forty Rooms is also profoundly affecting, its ending shattering but true. We know that Mrs. Caldwell (for that is the only name by which we know her) has died. Was it a life well lived? Quite likely. Was it a life complete? Does such a life ever really exist? Life is, after all, full of trade-offs and choices. Who is to say her path was not well taken? It is this ambiguity that is at the heart of this provocative novel.
Thanks to Allison from The Book Wheel for putting on this event and bringing Olga to my blog. I have enjoyed getting to know Olga’s work and these adorably charming Moomin characters by the late Tove Jansson that she recommended. My boys and I will be checking out these books, I love the simplicity and as you know, it’s my mission to help others celebrate the small victories in life and the Moomin series will be the the perfect addition to our kids’ library!