FINLAND
Days of children’s literature in Åland

“I got to learn new things. Now I want to start writing. Reading books is more interesting now that I know the writers.” (Comments from children at the Days of Children’s Literature, 2007) “I got to learn new things. Now I want to start writing. Reading books is more interesting now that I know the writers.” (Comments from children at the Days of Children’s Literature, 2007)

Wind in the sails of Days of Children’s Literature

“Reading books is more interesting now that I know the writers”. This is what children, who attended last year’s Days of Children’s Literature (DCL), had to comment about the event.

Helena Bross, one of the writers who took part in the event, sums it up and says, “Everything was so well organized and really made an impression on me. It was very positive to see that the DCL seemed to be a communal event. People participated; they weren’t just doing their job, but exhibited true personal commitment to it.” The key words here are interaction between writers and children and that the DCL event was a communal event on Åland.

Days of Children’s Literature!

DCL was organized in association with the 15. annual Mariehamn Literature Days. It is a similar event that arouses interest. This year’s DCL took place between the 14. and the 18. of April.

School librarian, Elspeth Randelin, blew wind into the sails of DCL four years ago. The force behind the idea was to increase children’s interest in reading. Revealing the primary idea behind the event, Elspeth says, “Children should not have to settle for crumbs. Children’s literature should have the same status as adult literature.” She continues, “Children should also have the right to literary adventures and events with writers.”

With this in mind, DCL began to take shape. A committee was established which comprised representatives from Mariehamn’s school administration, Åland’s library association and Åland’s school districts. The idea was to create an event for the children of Åland in grades 1-9. Visits by Scandinavian authors of children’s books would be organized in all schools, and the event would culminate with the Vimmelfest to be organized in Mariehamn’s city library.

Enthusiastic reception

DCL was organized for the first time in 2005. It was received with enthusiasm and the committee began planning the programme for the following year. In 2007, the Åland library association became the organizer for DCL. The previous year the association had participated in organizing the event with representatives of the school districts and Mariehamn’s school administration.

Committee 2008

Members of the committee for 2008 included Carina Sandell, Monica Andersson, Kerstin Gäddnäs, Agneta Wilhelms, Elsbeth Randelin, Gun Lindblom, and Marie Norrgran.

The province of Åland, various foundations, institutions and associations have funded DCL. In addition to these, various enterprises and private persons have sponsored the event. Schools in Åland also participate in sponsoring the event by giving 5 euros per pupil. The funds are taken from each school’s budget for cultural activities.

Before this year’s DCL a representative from the Svenskbygden succeeded in getting an interview with teacher Kerstin Gäddnäs, who represented northern Åland, Elspeth Randelin, who represented Mariehamn, and Gunilla Jansson, who is the cultural director in Jomala and chairperson for Åland’s library association. They formed an enthusiastic trio that bubbled with tales to tell.

This year all of the pupils in Åland’s schools in grades 1 to 9 took part in the event, as well as daycares and schools for pupils with disabilities, which means a total of 3,000 children were introduced to authors who visited each school. The organizers explained, “The authors travel all around Åland, from Brändö to Fäglö, to the southern part of the archipelago and from Geta to Eckerö. Every school on mainland Åland receives at least one visit by an author with the exception of Lumparland, which meets their author in Föglö.”

Thirteen writers and one illustrator

A total of thirteen writers had been invited to the event: Ann-Christine Waller and Anni Wikberg from Åland, Carina Wolff-Brandt and Yvonne Hoffman from mainland Finland, Jonathan Lindström, Monica Zak, Mecka Lind, Christina Wahldén, Moni Nilsson- Brännström, Per Nilsson, Kerstin Lundberg Hahn and Niklas Krog from Sweden, and Jörn Jensen from Denmark. The organizers felt that this was an interesting group of writers for children. The organizers explained,“Moni Nilsson-Brännström is the holder of chair number 17 at the academy for children’s literature in Sweden.” Anni Wikberg is an illustrator and she works for the post office illustrating stamps. She has also illustrated Ann-Christin Waller’s book Små sommarsagor.

Another interesting aspect of the event is that it has become so popular that writers actually ask to take part. The organizers emphasized that DCL is the first event of its kind in Scandinavia. DCL is like a smorgasbord, and it is not just for children. There are evening lectures and the opening of an exhibition for adults. The DCL opening ceremony was held in Mariehamn’s city library on 14 April at 7 p.m. and Britt Lundberg, Åland’s Minister of Culture and Education, delivered the welcome speech. The idea is to make the Days of Children’s Literature an event for people of all ages.

Vimmelfest

Vimmelfest is intended for children in the fifth grade and it has been described by children as the Nobel Prize celebration for children. It is an event where 320 children dressed in their absolute best enjoy ice cream, sitting at tables festively decorated just as in the Mariehamn city library. It is reminiscent of the Nobel celebration in that at one point the serving staff walk down the stairs carrying flambéed ice cream. DCL is a great opportunity and a source of joy for both children and participating writers. All of the writers are accommodated in the same hotel, which enables them to meet with each other and enjoy enriching moments together.

Passionate about the event, Gunilla Jansson, Kerstin Gäddnäs and Elspeth Randelin felt that DCL has fulfilled all of their expectations in relation to the fact that an interest in reading and a love of children’s literature have grown. After having first chatted in Mariehamn’s city library, we went to one of the city’s bookshops, which had set up a book display well before the Days of Children’s Literature. “The books have sold like hotcakes,” the shopkeeper told us. All three book-shops in Mariehamn sponsor the DCL event.

Benita Ahlnäs
Librarian,
Porvoo’s official tour guide and freelance journalist

benita_ahlnas AT hotmail.com

Translated by Turun Täyskäännös

Librarian, Porvoo’s official tour guide and freelance journalist