Leelo Tungal (1947) is a beloved poet, children’s writer, translator, and the chief editor of the children’s magazine Hea Laps. She has written more than 80 books of prose and poetry for children and young adults. Tungal has received a multitude of honours and awards, including the IBBY Honour List in 2010, the Cultural Endowment of Estonia’s Award for Children’s Literature in 1997, the Karl Eduard Sööt Children’s Poetry Award in 1995, 2000 and 2007, and the Nukits Competition in 1992, 1994 and 2006. Her works feature optimism, direct communication with the reader, fluid storytelling, and witty storytelling.
For Estonian children, the name Leelo Tungal (1947) is a synonym for ‘writer’. On one hand, this understanding has been shaped by an alphabet book completed in 1977 in collaboration with Ene Hiiepuu and Edgar Valter, and which children are still taught by to this day. In 2003, the collection of stories titled Anna and Adam’s Tales was completed with the same characters. On the other hand, Tungal’s poems are found in all Estonian textbooks. The writer herself worked as a teacher for many years: she is familiar with school life, with the desires and needs of children, and those topics, which are good and necessary to cover during the school year. Textbook authors find suitable literary pieces among Tungal’s works, where humor and childish nature are combined with a subtext that has content-rich weightiness and a spirited style.
Within Tungal’s poetry are a former child and the balance of a current adult. The writer views the world through a child’s eyes, from a standpoint of a small person studying life in the world and getting the feel for its rules. She always takes the side of a young person, even when she wants to teach and raise the individual, to disapprove of some character flaw or reprehensible behavior. By way of jokes, turning things upside-down, or using paradoxes, the poetess directs the reader to the very idea that she wishes to impart.
The writer knows that it is necessary for a child to make him- or herself seen and heard, to feel the love of parents, to partake in their time, to play. A noteworthy percentage of Leelo Tungal’s children’s poetry also carries a message for the portion of adults, who have forgotten what it was like to be little. In poems of the newer age, the child remarks and is saddened by the fact that time the family spends together has dwindled. The poetess also regards a child’s connection to nature as natural and good. A child is made happy by his or her own creations, or by when there is an opportunity to view the handicraft of amazing nature and contact it in the most direct way possible – playing in the mud and streaking their cheeks with berries they picked themselves.
Tungal’s poetry works seem cheerful and full of tricks on the surface. Yet, this is only the surface. Here, the reader encounters a child’s pained heart and wounded soul, shares in his or her weight of the world. Tungal’s topics are taken from daily life, but are not solely describable. With unexpected wordplay or a creative subtext, she lifts the poem above the reader’s daily life for a moment.
Leelo Tungal stands out for her productivity and wide range. She writes poems, stories and plays, additionally librettos and lyrics, and does translations. She has written for adults as well as children of all ages. Tungal has published the magazine Hea Laps (A Good Child) since 1994. She is recorded in literary history primarily as a children’s poetess. Tungal entered adult poetry in the 1960’s, and the children’s scene in the 1970’s with the picture book Karune lugu (A Bear Story, 1975). Her other children’s debuts include the Koera elu (A Dog’s Life, 1976) verse booklets and Hundi lugemine (Counting Wolves, 1978), which contains humorous animal poems with an inventive punch line for small children.
In poetry books published during the 1980’s, Tungal arrived at her subject – preschoolers and early schoolchildren at home and at school; a good example of this being Väike ranits (The Little Satchel, 1982). The best works published during the preceding period can be found in the anthology Vana vahva lasteaed (Great Old Kindergarten, 1988). The next mid-digest, Lepatriinu faksiga (Ladybug with a Fax), was published in 2004, and presents poems from the years 1973–2004.
The following can be highlighted among Tungal’s poetry books: Palju õnne sünnipäevaks! (Happy Birthday!, 1994, K. E. Sööt Children’s Poetry Prize), Küll on hea! (It Sure is Good!, 1998, K.E. Sööt Children’s Poetry Prize), Marjajuur lume all (A Berry Root Beneath the Snow, 2000), Pururikas laps (A Filthy-Rich Kid, 2002), Lätikeelne jäätis (Latvian Ice Cream, 2006, K. E. Sööt Children’s Poetry Prize), and Kama üks ja kama kaks (Kama One and Kama Two, 2009). Südasuvi (Midsummer, 2012), which contains four hundred poems, is a mid-digest of Tungal’s forty years of poetry works for children.
Leelo Tungal’s first book of prose for children is a travel story rich in happenings, and bears the title Neitsi Maarja neli päeva (The Virgin Mary’s Four Days, 1980). The main character of this highly humorous young person’s tale is middle-school student Mary. We meet her eccentric aunt, her friends and teachers. Tungal tells of what replaced the girl’s trip to Riga that fell through, and what kinds of life-lessons and experiences she gathered along the way. Also aimed towards children is Varesele valu (Pain for the Crow, 2002) and Siri Siiriuselt (Siri from Siirius, 2003), which contains elements of fantasy.
The next stories form a trilogy addressed towards intermediate-aged children. Pool koera (A Half of a Dog, 1983) is an adventure tale with criminal tinges, in which a boy that has run away from home foils thieves’ plans to burgle the school. Social topics set the tone in Kirju liblika suvi (Colorful Butterfly Summer, 1986) – a parent’s problem with alcohol from a child’s point of view. In the end, everything in the story takes a turn for the better. Pille, Madis ja teised (Pille, Madis and Others, 1989) contains a couple of longer stories involving children familiar from previous tales – their characters now open up from a completely different face. The children’s challenges this time are theft, alcoholism, and death.The main character in Kristiina, see keskmine (Kristiina, the Middle One, 1989, 2nd place in the 1992 I Nukits Competition) is a six-year-old girl, whose genuine and childish narration creates a true-to-life picture of family life, and thereby society more generally. Tungal exhibits utmost understanding in terms of what goes on in a child’s soul, and also uses infectious humor in the case of serious topics. The two-part story Barbara ja suvekoerad (Barbara and the Summer Dogs, 1992, 2nd place in the II Nukits Competition) and Barbara ja sügiskoerad (Barbara and the Autumn Dogs, 1994) deals with the fate of abandoned dogs. Kollitame! Kummitame! Ehk Kollikooli kasvandike juhtumisi tänapäeval (We Spook! We Haunt! Or, Monster School’s Pupils’ Happenings Today) earned a Cultural Endowment of Estonia Annual Prize for Children’s Literature. Over the years 2004–2005, her Felix the Hedgehog trilogy was published and earned 3rd place in the VIII Nukits Competition. Naljatilgad lähevad laulupeole (The Tilk Family Goes to the Song Festival, 2009) is similar in some ways to the book telling of Kristiina, and introduces the Estonian Song Festival tradition through the eyes of a tiny girl.
Two books – “Seltsimees laps ja suured inimesed” (“Comrade Kid and the Grown-Ups”, 2008) and “Samet ja saepuru” (“Velvet and Sawdust”, 2009) – were written by Tungal about her own childhood, which spanned the first years of Soviet power. The subject is tragic – little Leelo witnessed her mother being taken away, just as she did the deportation of her grandmother earlier. The girl is left alone with her father: older women around the town help to raise her. The story, which will put tears in any reader’s eyes, is written with an infectious sense of humor that helped her get by in that time full of absurdity and justified fear. In 2010, Leelo Tungal was put on the IBBY Honour List for her book “Seltsimees laps ja suured inimesed”.
|Delilah the Dolphin’s Whale of a Friend
Delilah the dolphin gets along great with all the other sea creatures, whether big or small. Still, Delilah’s best friend is a distant relative: the blue whale calf Valdo, who is always helpful, chipper, and active. But then something happens that makes Valdo sadder and sadder with every passing day.
|Ludwig the Snowman’s Lucky Day
Ludwig the snowman has everything he needs to make him happy: a sparkling head, a sturdy body, and a handsome orange nose that can constantly smell carrot. The snowman has no complaints about where he lives, either: he stands at the edge of a little clump of trees next to a house. There, he can chat with the forest animals and keep an eye on the kids who live in the house.
|Joseph the Bunny Looks for a Friend
Joseph the bunny moves to a new forest with his parents, leaving his friends behind in their old neighbourhood-woods. Now, Joseph needs to find new friends. When he fails to find any by telephone, the bunny decides to take a look around his new surroundings. He meets a big bear cub, a silky-tailed squirrel, and a teensy-tiny ladybug.
|Our Grandma is a Witch
Our Grandma is a Witch is a rhyming story about a grandmother who is really a witch. She does not cast spells or fly around on a broomstick, but her words have the tendency to magically come true. When she says that a fourth helping of ice cream will make your throat ache, then without a doubt, that is what it will do.
|The Santa Claus Who Was Afraid of Kids
Is it possible that an otherwise generous Santa Claus could come to good children without any presents? If you place a stocking ten times the size of your own on the windowsill, will elves bring you more sweets? Is a mousetrap really the best way to catch an elf?
|Tales of Miriam
Six-year-old Miriam is a strong-minded girl, whose imagination and desire to be by herself lead to all kinds of funny situations and adventures. In addition to Miriam’s father and mother and little brother, her family also includes her great friend, the hen. Grownups say that it is not really a pet, but a toy, and that everything that happens to it is in Miriam’s imagination. Miriam does not agree.
|Comrade Kid and the Grown-Ups
More than anything else, little Leelo wants to be an upstanding kid: the kind whose stockings never sag and whose hair ribbons never come undone; the kind who doesn’t draw princesses on kitchen doors or break a single one of her mother’s precious teacups. And she is trying especially hard to do so now, after men in black uniforms took her mother away and she’s left living alone with her father.
|Felix the Hedgehog and the Troublesome Autumn
Autumn arrives. Felix the Hedgehog prepares to hibernate, but falls into the hands of criminals. Using his wits and fighting sleep, he ultimately manages to escape. The mystery of Felix's parentage is also revealed.
|Felix the Hedgehog and the Criminal Zoo
The little hedgehog Felix is a foundling, who grows up in the care of a mother hare in a zoo. Once he has gone out into the big wide world, he is arrested, suspected of having committed several criminal acts. But Felix is clever enough to prove his own innocence, and begins to work as a detective himself.
|Felix the Hedgehog and Kerli the Elf
It's Christmastime. The animals wake Felix up, as the little elf-girl Kerli intends to arrange a big Christmas party in the zoo, and the hedgehog has to quickly compose some Christmas carols. When the animals realize that a hedgehog woken up out of its hibernation is doomed, they quickly act to save his life.
|Kristiina, the Middle One
"Kristiina, the Middle One" is a humorous story about a slightly eccentric family in the 1980s. The family includes a father, a mother, and three daughters: the schoolgirl Helen, 6-year-old Kristiina, and baby Imbi. They have a dog called Lassie, and often get visits from Grandma and Grandpa. Kristiina is a bubbly and enterprising girl, and her life is never boring.
2010–2014, 2017, 2019 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award candidate
2019 Viru County Literary Award (trilogy “Comrade Kid”)
2018 National Lifetime Achievement Award for Culture
2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award nominee
2017 Annual Children’s Literature Award of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (Hallo!)
2016 Good Children’s book (Ludwig the Snowman’s Lucky Day)
2015 Ferdinand Johann Wiedemann Languge Prize
2014 The Merit Award “With Children and For Children” of the Ombudsman for Children, for the lifetime achievement
2013 Good Children’s Book (Carrot Works as a Carrot)
2012 Bench named after Helmes, Feliks and Leelo Tungal in Ruila
2010 IBBY Honour List (Comrade Kid and the Grown-Ups)
2009/Autumn Good Children’s Book (The Tilk Family Goes to the Song Festival)
2008 Harju County Pearl Award for Culture
2007 Muhv Award
2007 Karl Eduard Sööt Children’s Poetry Award (Latvian Ice Cream)
2006 Nukits Competition, 3rd place (Felix the Hedgehog and Kerli the Elf, Felix the Hedgehog and the Criminal Zoo, Felix the Hedgehog and the Troublesome Autumn)
2005 Republic of Estonia Order of the White Star, IV Class
2000 Estonian Children’s Literature Center and Tänapäev Publishing Youth Story Competition, places 2–4 (Pain for the Crow)
1999 J. Oro Prize for Children’s Literature
2000 Karl Eduard Sööt Children’s Poetry Award (It Sure is Good!)
1997 Annual Children’s Literature Award of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (We Spook! We Haunt!)
1995 Karl Eduard Sööt Children’s Poetry Award (Happy Birthday!)
1994 Nukits Competition, 2nd place (Barbara and the Summer Dogs)
1992 A. H. Tammsaare Literary Award (Barbara and the Summer Dogs)
1992 Nukits Competition, 2nd place (Kristiina, the Middle One)
1986 Viru County Children’s Book Award (Colorful Butterfly Summer)
Barbara and the Summer Dogs
Russian in Estonia: Барбара и летние собаки, Таллинн: Издательство КПД 2012
Barbara and the Autumn Dogs
Russian in Estonia: Барбара и осенние собаки, Таллинн: Издательство КПД 2012
Bundle the Piglet
Finnish: Porsas Pamp, Tallinn: Monokkel 1993
Comrade Kid and the Grown-Ups
Latvian: Biedrs bērns un lielie cilvēki, Liels un mazs 2018
Lithuanian: Draugė mergaitė ir suaugė žmonės, Gimtasis žodis 2013
Russian in Estonia: Toварищ рeбенок и взрослыe люди, Таллинн: Издательство КПД 2010
Felix the Hedgehog series
Russian in Estonia: Ёжик Феликс, Таллинн: Издательство КПД 2014
A Half of a Dog
Russian: Половина собаки, Детская литература 1991
Russian: В один прекрасный грустный день, Детская литература 1991
Juku, Kalle and Klabautermann in Tallinn
Finnish: Juku, Kalle ja laivanhaltia Tallinnassa, Tallinn: Huma 2002
Kristiina, the Middle One
Russian in Estonia: Kристийна, или легко ли быть средней сестрой, Таллинн: Издательство КПД 2009
Finnish: Kristiina, se keskimmäinen, Tallinn: Avita 1994
Ludwig the Snowman’s Lucky Day
Latvian: Sniegavīra Ludviga laime, Riga: Jāņa Rozes apgāds 2018
German: Schneemann Ludwigs größtes Glück, Berlin: Kullerkupp Kinderbuch Verlag 2017
The More the Merrier
Russian in Estonia: Куча мала, Tallinn: Eesti Raamat 1984
Potatoes, Cows and Cosmonauts
English: Tallinn: Perioodika 1991
Tales of Miriam
Russian in Estonia: Истории Мириам, Tallinn: Nukufilm; Eesti Päevaleht 2009
The Tilk Family Goes to the Song Festival
Russian in Estonia: Пошли смешинки на Певческий праздник, Tallinn: Menu Kirjastus 2011
Velvet and Sawdust
Russian in Estonia: Бархат и опилки или Товарищ ребёнок и буквы , Таллинн: Издательство КПД 2012
The Virgin Mary’s Four Days
Russian: Четыре дня Маарьи, Детская литература 1986
Armenian: Beyond the Seven Seas, Edit Print 2012
Latvian: Daudzpusīgais ronis (The Versatile Seal), Liels un mazs 2014
Montenegrin: Neobično i tome slično, Udruženje književnih prevodilaca Crne Gore 2012
Russian in Estonia: Просто чудо! = Lihtsalt ime! (Just a Miracle!), Таллинн: Издательство КПД 2013
Russian in Estonia: Чем измерить oзорство? = Kuidas mõõta põngerjatempe? (How to Mesaure Mischief?), Таллинн: Издательство КПД 2009
Naisekäe puudutus ehk Seltsimees laps ja isa (A Woman’s Touch, a.k.a. Comrade Kid and Dad), Tänapäev 2018, illustrated by Urmas Viik, 256 pp
Päkapikud askeldavad (The Elves Get Busy), Tammerraamat 2018, illustrated by Pille Tammela, 60 pp
Saba (Tail the Dog), Tammerraamat 2018, illustrated by Reet Rea-Smyth, 24 pp
Delfiin Delila suur sõber (Delilah the Dolphin’s Whale of a Friend), Tammerraamat 2017, illustrated by Regina Lukk-Toompere, 24 pp
Halloo! (Hallo!) Tammerraamat 2017, illustrated by Regina Lukk-Toompere, 48 pp
Lumemees Ludvigi õnn (Ludwig the Snowman’s Lucky Day), Tammerraamat 2016, illustrated by Regina Lukk-Toompere, 24 pp
Jänesepoeg otsib sõpra (Joseph the Bunny Looks for a Friend), Tammerraamat 2015, illustrated by Catherine Zarip, 25 pp
Puudel Pedro ja igatsustasu (Pedro the Poodle and the Apology Gift), Petrone Print 2014, illustrated by Kirke Kangro, 111 pp
Vanaema on meil nõid (Our Grandma is a Witch), Tammerraamat 2014, illustrated by Regina Lukk-Toompere, 24 pp
Porgand töötab porgandina (Carrot Works as a Carrot), Tammerraamat 2013, illustrated by Regina Lukk-Toompere, 60 pp
Jõuluvana, kes kartis lapsi (The Santa Claus Who Was Afraid of Kids), Tammerraamat 2010, illustrated by Anne Linnamägi, 64 pp
Miriami lood (Tales of Miriam), Eesti Päevaleht 2009, illustrated by Ivika Luisk, 88 pp + DVD, with Peep Pedmanson
Naljatilgad lähevad laulupeole (The Tilk Family Goes to the Song Festival), Menu Kirjastus 2009, illustrated by Kirke Kangro, 72 pp
Samet ja saepuru (Velvet and Sawdust), Tänapäev 2009, illustrated by Urmas Viik, 216 pp
Seltsimees laps ja suured inimesed (Comrade Kid and the Grown-Ups), Tänapäev 2008, illustrated by Urmas Viik, 215 pp
Siil Felix ja kriminaalne loomaaed (Felix the Hedgehog and the Criminal Zoo), Varrak 2005, illustrated by Regina Lukk-Toompere, 108 pp
Siil Felix ja sekelduste sügis (Felix the Hedgehog and the Troublesome Autumn), Varrak 2005, illustrated by Regina Lukk-Toompere, 112 pp
Siil Felix ja päkapliks Kerli (Felix the Hedgehog and Kerli the Elf), Varrak 2004, illustrated by Regina Lukk-Toompere, 120 pp
Siri Siiriuselt (Siri from Siirius), Tänapäev 2003, 108 pp
Barbara ja sügiskoerad (Barbara and the Autumn Dogs), Huma 1994, illustrated by Edgar Valter, 64 pp; Barbara ja koerad, Tammerraamat 2016, illustrated by Edgar Valter, 168 pp
Barbara ja suvekoerad (Barbara and the Summer Dogs), Eesti Muusikafond 1992, illustrated by Edgar Valter, 64 pp; Barbara ja koerad, Tammerraamat 2016, illustrated by Edgar Valter, 168 pp
Kristiina, see keskmine (Kristiina, the Middle One), Eesti Raamat 1989, Tänapäev 2008, 2014, illustrated by Kirke Kangro, 168 pp
Kirju liblika suvi (Colorful Butterfly Summer), Eesti Raamat 1986, illustrated by Asta Vender, 64 pp
Neitsi Maarja neli päeva (The Virgin Mary’s Four Days), Eesti Raamat 1980, Eesti Ekspress 2008, illustrated by Anu Samarüütel, 206 pp