My thanks to Floris Books/Ingram Publishing Services for a review copy of this book via Edelweiss.   

Written and illustrated by Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin, An Illustrated Collection of Nordic Animal Tales is a collection of 26 animals stories based on Nordic, particularly Finnish folklore. Originally written in Finnish and published in 1997, this translation by Jill G. Chambers was released earlier this year (2022).

The stories in this volume are each complete in themselves and yet connected together. Set around the Metsola Farm, these tales feature mainly fox, bear, and wolf who get up to different antics and in the process have some adventures as they interact with the farm and other wild animals while trying to find food for themselves. Bear is strong and hardworking but also gullible, wolf too is somewhat similar though he is a little more aware of things than bear, while fox is lazy but also rather sly and cunning. As the book opens, the three decide to take to farming to grow some food for themselves, with bear and wolf ending up taking on all of the burden, while fox, using his cunning, manages to loll about on the sidelines pretending to contribute. There are also plenty of other adventures like the wolf attempting to eat a piglet for dinner, the rooster getting a little drunk, the farm and wild animals escaping the ‘end of the world’, Hare facing the frost, Rooster crowing for the king, and the animals building a road besides wolf, bear, and fox’s further farming adventures. The stories are accompanied by beautiful illustrations, both in full colour and black and white.

After two rather heavy reads back-to-back, I was looking for something to lighten my mood and this collection served the purpose perfectly. The animals and their adventures are a great deal of fun, and while they might engage in human activities like farming and interact with each other perhaps more like different people than different animals, the also retain their animal characteristics and at a basic level are what they are.

Like folk tales usually do, these stories too, tell us how bears ended up with stubby tails, foxes with a white streak on theirs, and squirrels with nice plump ones, the lynx its fast legs, curved claws ad dappled coat, or even how bears started to include ants in their diet! Most of these were new to me, but the opening story where fox cunningly eats all the butter the bear, wolf and fox are meant to share was a familiar one though the version I know was around how dogs and cats originally became ‘enemies’ (the cat taking on the role of the fox in that version).

It was also interesting that though these are children’s tales, they are mostly just entertaining without being particularly moralistic or attempting to teach a lesson. While in the road building story or set of stories, rather, the animals who contribute to the effort are indeed rewarded, and those that don’t must pay the price, fox remains cunning and lazy all through and is never really caught or punished. In fact, he is rewarded with even more intelligence eventually. Hard work too, doesn’t always pay. And the animals do also help themselves to all they need from the farm whether it is butter or fish in a matter of fact way. Intelligence, though, does matter, and the lack of it seems to get some into their share of trouble.

The author mentions in her introduction that she sought also to showcase the traditional farm through these stories where tools and methods of times gone by were used, and this does come through for instance in how Mrs Metsola churns her cream or the slash and burn agriculture bear, wolf, and er… fox practice or even how they harvest grain and grind the flour (naturally, this too turns out to the fox’s advantage).

A lovely collection made all the lovelier by the author’s beautiful illustrations. Younger readers would of course enjoy these, but also adults who enjoy dipping into folk tales or even just staring at pretty illustrations!  

Cover image via goodreads; illustrations by Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin, via Edelweiss

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13 thoughts on “Book Review: An Illustrated Collection of Nordic Animal Tales by Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin and translated by Jill G. Timbers

  1. I agree, the illustrations are stunning – the animals retain their intrinsic nature even while doing human things, and the compositions draw you into the story. As a child I had my fill of fables that hit one about the head with an overt moral, I much prefer tales where I can draw out any moral – implicit or even nonexistent – for myself!

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    1. These are just plain fun, but also do manage to convey the features and temperaments of animals (as far as one can generalize), how they might interact with farms around which they live (sneaking into eat cream for instance), traditional farming and such and all this in a painless way.

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  2. There’s something very comforting about reading traditional folk tales, especially at this time of year, and it’s good to hear that the stories themselves are not too heavy-handed or ‘preachy’. The illustrations look really beautiful too – a lovely book to dip into over the winter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So true and I managed to read two lovely volumes this year, this one and one on nature stories from different parts of the world earlier this year. I agree, it would make for a lovely winter read

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  3. Sound lovely, and I’m so glad they’re not full of moral lessons! Sometimes even young people deserve to be allowed some pure entertainment without always being preached at! I wonder why foxes have the reputation of laziness. The urban foxes around here always seem to be bustling around, busy, busy, busy.

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