Book corner

A book lover's guide to building a brilliant children's library

No 52 Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson (1948)

Here we are at last, ensconced in the very last Book Corner (or at least, the last official Book Corner – a series of pleadings on my part have elicited permission to add an appendix-type affair next week to gather all oversights, discoveries and readers' suggestions safely in), wherein we find the Moomins.

These are a community of snow-coloured, big-nosed, profoundly temperate beings who live in Moomin Valley, Moominland (a place where "very often unexpected and disturbing things used to happen, but nobody ever had time to be bored, and that is always a good thing"). They look exactly as you would expect them to look – like lovely miniature hippos, smooth but cuddly, creatures that anyone would long to befriend.

Moomintroll lives with Moominpappa and Moominmamma (whose handbag is stuffed with "things we might need in a hurry, like dry socks, sweets and string and tummy-powder") and a variety of other friends of different species, including the Hemulen ("leading Moomin philatelist" who is male but wears a dress, and curtsies because it looks so silly to bow when wearing a dress), tiny Sniff and the harmonica-playing Snufkin, who accompanies Moomintroll on most of his adventures.

The Moomins exist in a land, and are written for an age, where anything can happen without rupturing expectations. Finn Family Moomintroll focuses on a hobgoblin's hat that changes anything put into it into something else; water into raspberry juice, discarded flowers into a jungle that subsumes the entire house. But these folkloric and fairytale elements are tied firmly to the everyday by the details that ring true down the ages and across cultures – from the Muskrat's anguished cry of humiliation when his hammock breaks ("If I had killed myself, of course it wouldn't have mattered. But imagine if your YOUNG PERSONS had seen me!") to the Hemulen's negotiation of that tricky period of recovery after terrible grief (here of completing his stamp set and becoming an owner rather than a collector): "He continued to look worried because he thought he oughtn't to look happy after such a big sorrow."

The Moomin books (there are nine in all) are full of subtle humour, wisdom, compassion and melancholy and the attraction they held for me as a child has only grown with the years. Moominland and its methodical inhabitants form an oasis of calm and clarity in a world that frequently threatens to overwhelm us. Just as the Moomins are always ready to curl up in a warm patch and snuggle down for a restorative snooze, so too should we all, children and adults, with their still, sweet stories.

Contributor

Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

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