Tour celebrates Norwegian children’s books

Todd Milbourn

Trolls are lurking on the University’s West Bank, but not the long-haired kind dressed in maroon and gold that are sold for good luck at the bookstore. These are the trolls of Norwegian children’s literature.
The largest exhibition of Norwegian children’s books ever to tour North America opened Friday for a seven-week stay at the Wilson Library.
The Washington, D.C.-based exhibit, “Trolls, Mrs. Pepperpot, and Beyond: Celebrating Norwegian Children’s Literature,” is a collaboration of the University, the Royal Norwegian Consulate General and the Sons of Norway. It’s intended to commemorate the bicentennial of Norwegian children’s books.
But the exhibit is about more than just trolls.
“Children’s books have played an important role in Norwegian history,” said Dr. Karen Nelson Hoyle, a University professor of children’s literature.
A trail of descriptive panels winds through the exhibit, interweaving literary and historic periods and telling the tale of Norway’s history through its children’s illustrated tales.
“Books often are religious and moral guides and have evolved to entertain and educate Norwegian youth,” said Torild Homstad, the administrator for the North American office of the University of Oslo summer school and an instructor at St. Olaf College.
Children’s books also served as propaganda during the German occupation of Norway in World War II.
“Children’s books weren’t as carefully censored as adult books and became a means of criticism and resistance,” Homstad said.
“Snorri the Seal,” published in 1941, is the most famous example of Norwegian resistance through literature.
The satirical tale portrays Norway as the peaceful seal, “Snorri,” attacked and tricked by an aggressive killer whale representing Germany. The anti-German sentiment reflected in the story went unnoticed by Nazi censors at first, and the book spread ideas about liberation across Norway.
Weeks later, censors realized the book’s underlying meaning and immediately halted its publication. Despite the ban, copies continued to circulate and rally Norwegians, young and old, to protest German occupation, according to one of the exhibit’s displays.
The exhibit portrays contemporary Norwegian children’s books as bold, innovative and anti-authoritarian. The books continue to be an important part of Norwegian children’s lives.
“Children in Norway read more books than here,” Homstad said. “TV hasn’t overtaken yet.”
The exhibit is free to the public and runs until Jan. 9.