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Andrus Kivirähk (1970) is an author of adult and children’s prose, a playwright, topical satirist, and screenplay writer. He graduated from the University of Tartu as a journalist, and is the most powerful and prolific figure on Estonia’s literary scene today. Kivirähk has written 12 books for children, all of which are kept in print and widely read. His children’s stories are known for their rich fantasy and unique sense of humour. The writing is simple, the plots fast-paced, and the gallery of characters colourful and full of surprises.
When I think about Andrus Kivirähk’s literary works, I immediately envision magic realism – but an Estonian version, in this case. He takes the Estonian landscape, its people, even things (such as the children’s novel Oscar and the Things), and puts them together with a very “Kivirähkesque” sense of humour, a touch of the unreal, animism, and an adequate dose of psychology. His style is light and simple, but these are the unexpected ideas and connections that make his pieces so unusual and loved by readers. (Anna Michalczuk, translator)
Kivirähk’s works have found their way into many different mediums and products, including films, plays, board games, and a theme park. The fact that he is a three-time laureate of the Nukitsa Award, which is picked by children, speaks for itself. (Mari Niitra, researcher)
Andrus Kivirähk (1970), one of the younger generation’s most well known authors, is at his peak as a writer of books for both children and adults. In truth, there are no grounds for categorizing his works as those for large or small readers, as they comprise a certain unified whole both thematically and stylistically. He has also personally stated that for him, there is no difference in writing for children or grown-ups. All of Kivirähk’s works are extremely playful, crafty, and imaginative; gladly ironizing seriousness as well as excessive pathos. Kivirähk’s high-flying fantasy knows no limits in terms of character creation. Among his diverse and colourful gallery are, for example, romantic dog poop; an intestinal worm that makes friends with a little girl; a honeybee judo teacher named Susumu, who accidentally journeys within a book to Gadgetville; a building maintenance man that turns into the prince of an underwater world, etc.
Kivirähk’s works have seeped into many mediums and products (films, plays, board games, and a soon-to-be-finished theme park). The fact that he is a three-time laureate of the Nukitsa Award, which is picked by children themselves, speaks for itself.
Kivirähk’s first children’s book, Giraffe (1995), pokes fun at adults’ dull attitude towards life, and also provides an indicator for the writer’s future works. On one end is a pair of dim and practical-minded parents, and on the other is their lonely daughter Kai, whose only friend is a tapeworm named Tõnis that lives in her stomach.
In the book Sirli, Siim and the Secrets (1999), the world of dreams is given at least as important place as that of the real world. In the work, not only children, but also grown-ups are in a search for comfort in their fantasies. Dreaming and fantasizing helps each one of them to deal with the surrounding world. The father of the family is a famous athlete in his imagination, while the mother is a princess in a great castle, the boy is a wizard, and the daughter a cloud ballerina. Yet all of them are surpassed by the maintenance man, who in his own dreams has moved to an underwater world to live as a prince, and hides an entire sea in the apartment building’s broom closet.
Kivirähk’s best-known character is undoubtedly the dog-girl Lotte from the books Lotte’s Journey South (2002) and “Lotte from Gadgetville” (2006), the success of which has been ramped up by full-length animated films of the same title. There is probably not one person in Estonia that hasn’t heard of Lotte – the character has already long lived an independent life in various fields of culture, as well as in the form of several different products such as ice cream, bed sheets, and a clothing brand.
The Lotte stories include a unique social utopia characterised by the absence of violence. The events’ setting is in Gadgetville, the community inhabiting which is composed of different species of animals that live amiably side-by-side and surprise one another with new inventions time and time again. It’s no wonder then that little Lotte and her friends are brimming with wild ideas, the joy of discovery, and a hankering for invention. If there is even a negative character in these books, then it is merely a little dim-witted in the worst case. Kivirähk’s children’s book, Poo and Spring (2009), is a humorous collection of short stories, the intriguing title of which incites excitement in children and occasionally ruffles feathers among the older generation. Truly, there is no question of whether Kivirähk is on children’s side: he accepts a child as he or she is, dismisses taboos and authority figures, and encourages young people to be creative and free.
|Tilda and the Dust Angel
Nine-year-old Tilda lives alone with her mother. Her father died when she was still quite small, and the girl can’t remember a single thing about him: not his looks, his personality, nor the things they did together. Tilda’s mom refuses to talk about her dad, which makes the girl extremely sad. Yet one day, after the girl has forgotten to clean her room for a long while, the Dust Angel arrives...
|Oskar and the Things
When Oskar’s mother flies away to take classes in America and his father has to go to work every day, the boy is sent to live with his grandmother in the countryside for the summer. Oskar doesn’t feel all that close to his grandma, who has lived so far away, and this makes him lonely and unhappy. His sense of abandonment worsens when he realizes he left his mobile phone at home.
Reading example: English, German
|Carnival and Potato Salad
In "Carnival and Potato Salad", Kivirähk continues the style of storytelling he left off with his extremely popular collection of children’s tales titled Poo and Spring. As usual for Kivirähk’s stories, familiar everyday objects often get fresh starts in life – an eraser can become a football, or a pillow can be a teacher.
The giant Big Toell – an ancient Estonian hero – is a quiet and hard-working man. He goes around doing chores on his home island with his wife Piret and their horse, living an untroubled life. Blissful days go by as they farm the land and help their fellow Estonians. Every day when Big Toell goes home, he eats his fill of Piret’s cooking and lies down to rest for the night.
|A Frog Kiss
"A Frog Kiss" is a lovely story that shows fairy tales do not always work out the way they’re supposed to. Everybody knows that a frog should turn into a princess when kissed, but sometimes the unexpected happens. It all begins with Santa Claus flying back home from one of his shopping trips and losing a couple of books along the way.
|Poo and Spring
"Poo and Spring" is one of the most popular children’s books published in Estonia over the last five years. It consists of short stories, in which characters from the everyday world suddenly find new ways to interact. What happens when a dog turns yellow in autumn and sheds its fur? It will grow new, green fur in the spring, naturally!
|Lotte from Gadgetville
The fun dog-girl Lotte lives in Gadgetville on the shore of a lovely sea. There, the villagers enjoy inventing, discovering, and learning new things. Lotte and her friend, the kitten Bruno, are likewise curious and big knowledge enthusiasts. One day, the friends find a book washed up by the sea, and bring it home. As the book is drying, the bee Susumu tumbles out from between the pages.
|Lotte’s Journey South
One day, Lotte the dog girl finds a tired little chick who has been left behind by the other migrating birds. Since the little birdie dearly longs to find her way to her grandmother in southern lands, the big-hearted Lotte decides to extend a helping paw. Luckily, the dog-girl of Gadgetville has a score of things they’ll need for their voyage, such as a flying machine! Lotte’s father Oskar is the best inventor in town!
|Sirli, Siim and the Secrets
"Sirli, Siim, and the Secrets" is an enchanting tale about ordinary city-dwellers whose everyday lives are brightened and enriched by dreams. Residing in a humdrum little apartment house in a quiet neighbourhood is a small family: the daughter Sirli, who voyages to visit a sky dancer; the son Siim, who is a wizard in a miniature world beneath his desk...
Mom and Dad, who only value material things, can’t understand their daughter Kai, for whom everything that surrounds us lives and breathes. The seemingly lonely girl’s fantasy truly knows no bounds! Thus, the crane working on the neighbouring lot turns into a giraffe who sleeps and dreams about his friends in warmer lands.
2012, 2016 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award candidate
2016 Tartu Prize for Children’s Literature (Childhood Prize) (Oskar and the Things)
2016 Eduard Vilde Literary Award (Oskar and the Things)
2016 Nukits Competition, 2nd place (Carnival and Potato Salad)
2015 Nominee of the Annual Children’s Literature Award of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (Oskar and the Things)
2015 Good Children’s Book (Oskar and the Things)
2015 The White Ravens (Big Toell)
2013 Jānis Baltvilks Prize (Jāņa Baltvilka balva), Latvia (Poo and Spring)
2013 Good Children’s Book (A Frog Kiss)
2011 Jānis Baltvilks Prize (Jāņa Baltvilka balva), Latvia (Lotte from Gadgetville)
2010 Nukits Competition, 1st place (Poo and Spring)
2010 Children and Young Adult Jury (Bērnu un jauniešu žūrija), Latvia, 2nd place (Grades 5–7) (Sirli, Siim and the Secrets)
2008 IBBY Honour List (Lotte from Gadgetville)
2008 Nukits Competition, 1st place (Lotte from Gadgetville)
2007 Republic of Estonia State Culture Award for 2006 Creative Achievements (Lotte from Gadgetville; and plays)
2006 Nukits Competition, 1st place (Limpa and the Pirates)
2005 Estonian Children’s Literature Centre Raisin of the Year Award (Bed-time stories for Estonian fathers, together with the collection’s other authors)
2004 The Order of the White Star, V class
2004 Nukits Competition, 2nd place (Lotte’s Journey South)
2000 Annual Cultural Endowment of Estonia Award (animated feature film Lotte, together with H. Ernits, J. Põldma, R. Lukk-Toompere ja O. Ehala)
Carnival and Potato Salad
Finnish: Kun Musti muni mummon (selected stories), WSOY 2018
Latvian: Karnevāls un kartupeļu salāti, Liels un mazs 2016
Russian in Estonia: Карнавал и картофельный салат, Varrak 2016
A Frog Kiss
German: Frösche küssen, Willegoos 2015
Russian in Estonia: Поцелуй лягушку! Varrak 2014
Russian in Estonia: Жираф, Издательство КПД 2008
Limpa and the Pirates
Russian in Estonia: Лимпа и пираты, Varrak 2009
Lotte from Gadgetville
Latvian: Lote no Izgudrotāju ciema, Zvaigzne ABC 2010
Russian in Estonia: Лотте из Деревни Изобретателей, Eesti Päevaleht 2009
Finnish: Keksijäkylän Lotta, Otava 2008
Lotte’s Journey South
Italian: Lotte. L’avventuroso viaggio al sud, De Bastiani 2019
Russian in Estonia: Путешествие Лотты в тёплые края, Eesti Joonisfilm 2017
Latvian: Lotes ceļojums uz dienvidiem, Zvaigzne ABC 2013
Oskar and the Things
Latvian: Oskars un lietas, Liels un mazs 2018
Polish: Oskar i rzeczy, Widnokrąg 2018
Poo and Spring
Finnish: Koiranne alkaa kohta kukkia, Otava 2016
German: Der Schiet und das Frühjahr, Willegoos 2015
Low German: De Schiet un dat Fröhjohr, Plaggenhauer 2015
Latvian: Kaka un pavasaris, Liels un mazs 2012
Russian in Estonia: Весна и какашка, Varrak 2010
Sirli, Siim and the Secrets
Slovenian: Sara, Simon in skrivnosti, KUD Sodobnost International 2015
Lithuanian: Sirlė, Simas ir slėpiniai, Kronta 2010
Latvian: Sirli, Sīms un noslēpumi, Liels un mazs 2009
Hungarian: Sári, Samu és a titkok, Cerkabella 2008
Russian in Estonia: Сирли, Сийм и секреты, Издательство КПД 2008
Tilda ja tolmuingel (Tilda and the Dust Angel), FD Distribution 2018, illustrated by Takinada, 124 pp
Karneval ja kartulisalat (Carnival and Potato Salad), Varrak 2015, illustrated by Heiki Ernits, 128 pp
Oskar ja asjad (Oskar and the Things), Film Distribution 2015, illustrated by Anne Pikkov, 296 pp
Suur Tõll (Big Toell), Varrak 2014, illustrated by Jüri Arrak, 51 pp
Konna musi (A Frog Kiss), Varrak 2013, illustrated by Anne Pikkov, 37 pp
Kaka ja kevad (Poo and Spring), Varrak 2009, illustrated by Heiki Ernits, 95 pp
Leiutajateküla Lotte (Lotte from Gadgetville), Eesti Joonisfilm 2006, illustrated by Heiki Ernits, 258 pp
Limpa ja mereröövlid (Limpa and the Pirates), Varrak 2004, 2009, 2013, 2018, illustrated by Anni Mäger, 136 pp
Lotte reis Lõunamaale (Lotte’s Journey South), Varrak 2002; Eesti Joonisfilm 2012, illustrated by Regina Lukk-Toompere, 151 pp
Sibulad ja šokolaad (Onions and Chocolate), Varrak 2002, illustrated by Ivo Uukkivi, 136 pp (collection of children’s plays: Rich Ill Will Has No Bounds; Pill Bug and Pill Bug; Mice in the Attic; Brave Kefir)
Sirli, Siim ja saladused (Sirli, Siim and the Secrets), Varrak 1st ed. 1999, 9th ed. 2015, illustrated by Ilmar Trull, 192 pp
Kaelkirjak (Giraffe), Tiritamm 1995, illustrated by Anu Kalm; Tänapäev 2000, 2007, 2008, 2014, 2016, illustrated by Heiki Ernits, 64 pp