Although this is a story I read for the first time this week, there is something about it that reminds me of the books from my own childhood. When I turned to the publication details it made perfect sense that this was first written in 1979. Barbro Lindgren is a hugely popular and influential Swedish children’s author who often collaborates with the distinctive illustrator Eva Eriksson, together they are something of a dream team as this gentle and sensitive book demonstrates. Gecko Press’ new edition, translated by Julia Marshall, is a beautiful addition to the collection of children’s books translated into English.
The story follows the plight of the outsider as the ‘the tiny man’ pins a note to a tree saying, ‘FRIEND WANTED’ and waits for ten lonely days and nights. The illustration of the suited man sat on the doorstep of his detached house pulls on the heartstrings as our eye is drawn to the windows, which without friendship and company, remain dark. People, the text tells us, are quick to form dismissive judgements ‘Even though he was kind, no one cared for him much’ adding that they thought ‘his hat was ugly’ but animals, it seems, have bigger, kinder hearts, and happiness appears in the form of ‘a big dog with a beautiful curve in his tail’ who ‘looked at him kindly and then laid its heavy head on his shoulder’.
There’s plenty text here and as such this is certainly one to read aloud. The prose has a delicate poetry that you find in the most satisfying of picture books. Readers follow the new friendship through the seasons noting that as the ‘days passed’ the ‘trees grew greener and greener’. The friends take note of nature, eat together and even share a room. There is some darkness, that children are bound to empathise with, when a little girl also makes friends with the dog and the tiny man’s ‘chest tightened’, but the jealousy and fear of losing his friend are all finally resolved. The closing image of the three sat arm in arm (or paw as it turns out) on the doorstep forms the perfect antidote to the earlier image of the lonely man.
For me this would make a perfect story to read aloud, all is resolved and yet readers are left to consider the plight of those who are left out, the beauty of friendship, and to empathise with those around them.
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