Finnish children watch less television than their peers in many other countries. As a nation that still appreciates reading, the Finns read a lot to their children, who are thereby introduced to books well before they themselves begin reading at 6 or 7. Beloved fairytale figures, Tove Jansson's Moomin characters and Mauri Kunnas' dogs have won world-wide popularity.
A good children's book is characteristically understandable on many levels; in other words, adults will also find it interesting. The most balanced totality results when the same person both writes and illustrates. Life all around and popular tradition are the most important sources of material. These and certain other common factors can be identified in both Jansson's and Kunnas' work, although they are completely different in style.
Kunnas has become famous for a style that is downright bursting with details. He drew the inspiration for his books on Christmas themes from Finnish beliefs and fairy tales. In his famous Koiramäki (Dog Hill) books, children in canine forms show how people used to live in cities and the countryside. In addition to this series, his main work is The Canine Kalevala, which is a tongue-in-cheek and very funny version of the Finnish national epic. The Kalevala itself has been translated into 50 languages so far. It will be interesting to see how many The Canine Kalevala is translated into.
The denizens of Moomin Valley are already classics Tove Jansson began using a sketch of the Moomin creature as her signature on anti-fascist cartoons in the 1930s. It made its debut as a fairytale figure in the book The Little Trolls and the Great Flood in 1945. The Moomin books soon became an international success; already in the 1950s, they were appearing in 60 different languages in about 40 countries.
Both the Moomins and Kunnas' dog figures are very human in character and their lives are set in an environment that is clearly recognizable as Scandinavian. Jansson's stories are more serious than Kunnas' joyful tales. The Moomin books contain a great deal of intelligent humour, but Jansson's great gift is her ability to deal with fear and angst. Her stories always have a happy ending, but the reader is allowed to experience fear and anxiety, which are intrinsic to life.
Jansson's stories always contain some message or other. That becomes evident to anyone who can read between the lines. Her stories describe events like the Moomins having to leave their valley or one of them waking up and having to face the difficulties of life all alone because the others are still deep in their winter slumber. The Moomin tales also ponder such matters as the artist's role, the difficulty of distinguishing between truth and fantasy, and the courage to live. Moomipappa at Sea (1965) is a story about disappointment. A Moomin pappa who has cherished a dream of writing his memoirs is forced to admit that a dream is best when it remains only a dream.
Kunnas' and Jansson's give a lot to people of all ages. The Moomin stories contain a friendliness that appeals to adults and children in different ways. Adults reading Mauri Kunnas' books are delighted by his skilful and precisely detailed descriptions and the way in which he caricaturises familiar themes.