Indrek Koff

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Indrek Koff (1975) is a writer, translator, and publisher, who graduated from the University of Tartu in French language and literature. He writes for both children and adults, translates French literature into Estonian, and runs a publishing house. Koff has written nine children’s books. The author’s works are characterised by compact writing in broad strokes, occasional inner monologues, and alternating viewpoints.

While Indrek Koff has long been known as a translator and published a couple of poetry collections, Koff began writing for children just recently.

The first of his children’s books, Meie suur puu (Our Big Tree, 2012), supplies readers with a spectrum of topics, speaking about family and intergenerational ties. The latter are wonderfully conveyed with the image of a tree: the ancient native tree was once planted by the family’s distant ancestor, its roots extend deep into the earth of their home, children are able to climb and swing on its branches, and they can peer farther than their own noses into time and space.

Kui ma oleksin vanaisa (If I Were a Grandpa, 2013) similarly strings a bridge between the past and the future. The narrator is a child, but he fantasises about what he would do if he were a grandfather. A father of four children, the author allows himself to dream through the main character’s mouth about grandfatherhood, in which he will have an immense number of grandchildren. First of all, the grandfather would have very long legs so that all of his grandchildren could fit on his lap at once. Naturally, the grandfather and his grandchildren would climb to the top of an old maple tree and play spies in the yard day after day, would zip around on bicycles, and would eat pancakes that their grandmother makes. Together, the grandchildren and their grandfather would make up the world’s best group of playmates, no matter what they might undertake. Still, a more serious tone does enter Koff’s text, as is characteristic of the writer. Specifically, when the future grandfather must die one day, he will have a whole bunch of surprises already thought up for his grandchildren in order to lessen their sadness.

In his book Koju (Homeward, 2014), Koff manages to masterfully demonstrate how different a child’s perception of time might be from that of an adult. One day, five-year-old Madis has to walk home from the day care alone. The path that he practiced for a long time with his parents turns into a great adventure along familiar streets and backyards when the boy walks it alone. Madis encounters several grown-ups, with whom he has conversations and plays until it is finally already quite dark outside. Understandably, his mother and father are in quite a panic by that time. The suspense holds until the very last page – will everything still have a happy ending?

The collection of stories Kirju koer (Ten Little Butterflies, 2014) surprises readers with the breadth and depth of its topics, as well as with unexpected turns. Characters of all suits show up – for example, a fish with low self-esteem who is in a pickle, or an overview of brothers’ week that is given through the fights they have. We meet a cat who is angry at its owner and the leopard-model Tõnu, who also works part-time at the zoo as a professional leopard. All of these folk are very strange and simultaneously so familiar – Koff has managed to open up their characters and give them life by way of making them odd.

On the one hand, the author offers rather ordinary kinds of episodes and details; on the other, he gives his stories a philosophical depth outright magically. The collection is somewhat melancholic, but at the same time hopeful and optimistic. When a situation is just starting to seem too glum, the author bring in humour and notes of absurdity with unexpected trains of thought.

The book has a very wide target group: it reminds adults what it felt like to be a child, and at the same time gives children an inkling of how it is to be grown up. Koff is not the kind of children’s author who tries to win over his readers using cheap tricks. He is sincere towards children and does not underestimate them. Koff’s simply-worded stories do not underestimate the adult at the same time, either, offering food for thought about the nature of life. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on the author.

Mari Niitra


If I Were a Grandpa
In If I Were a Grandpa, a little boy dreams about one day becoming a grandfather. He would always be a fantastic grandpa to his grandchildren. He would play all kinds of exciting games with them and let them do all sorts of things all of the time. His grandchildren would be very good and well-behaved, so he would never really need to scold them.
Reading sample: English
Fever Flowers
Alma absolutely loves walking home from school in spring – right when the weather is still crisp, but the sun already feels warm on your face. It’s wonderful to breathe in the fresh air that tingles your nostrils and know that summer is just around the corner. Alma is well aware that you must still wear a hat and wrap a scarf tight around your neck, not to mention button up your jacket.
Indrek Koff. „Ma elan hästi”. Härra Tee & proua Kohvi, 2016, illustreerinud Ulla SaarI’m Doing Well
Paul the duckling and Sander the bunny are great friends – probably the best friends in the whole wide world! They live rather far away from each other, but true friendship knows no bounds. At least not as long as there are mailmen and mailboxes! Paul has written Sander a letter. It sure is taking a long time for him to reply!
Leen and Oskar are big and busy kids! When they have a day off from preschool and their grandmother comes to keep an eye on them, the children decide to be especially good so that their mother will be pleased when she gets home. They tidy up their rooms, do the laundry, and clean their shoes.
Reading sample: English
This Tuesday was a special day. Tuesday was a special day otherwise, too, since Wednesday always came after Tuesday and Wednesday was Madis’ day at home. This Tuesday, though, was especially special, since Madis was to go home from day care all on his own for the first time. Completely alone!
Reading sample: English, French
Ten Little Butterflies
A beautiful, multi-coloured dog can be devoured in the cruelest way imaginable. A fox can be so tired and sad that he doesn’t even have the will to live anymore, but then, in the big murky forest he can unexpectedly hear his friend Other Fox calling him, and can become cheerful again.
Reading sample: English, French
Our Big Tree
A large tree grows in front of a little boy’s grandparents’ house. It gives shade to people both big and small during the day. At night, however, it is like a good giant, who protects the house. There is a hole in the tree, where one can whisper secrets. There are deep grooves in the tree’s bark, because it is very, very old.
Reading sample: English

2014 Nominee of the Annual Children’s Literature Award of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (Ten Little Butterflies)
2014 Nominee of the Tartu Prize for Children’s Literature (Childhood Prize) (Homeward)
2014 Tower of Babel Honour Diploma for translation (Jean-Claude Mourlevat. The Pull of the Ocean)
2013 Nominee of the Annual Children’s Literature Award of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (If I Were a Grandpa)
2011 The Knee-High Book Competition, Honourable Mention (Our Big Tree)

If I Were a Grandpa
Meadow Mari language: Мый коча лиям ыле гын, Йошкар-Ола: ООО ИПФ “СТРИНГ” 2020

Latvian: Visu dienu labiņi, Berlin: Kullerkupp Kinderbuch Verlag 2020
German: Einen Tag ganz brav, Berlin: Kullerkupp Kinderbuch Verlag 2018

Ten Little Butterflies
French: Le jour où j’ai appris à voler, Passage(s) 2018
Meadow Mari language: Мӱгинде пий, Йошкар-Ола: Марий Эл Республик писатель ушем 2017

Palavikulilled (Fever Flowers), Härra Tee & proua Kohvi 2020, illustrated by Lucija Mrzljak, 31 pp
Kooliraamat (The School Book), Tallinna Keskraamatukogu 2017, Härra Tee & proua Kohvi 2018, illustrated by Marja-Liisa Plats, 96 pp
Ilusti (Nice), Härra Tee & proua Kohvi 2016, illustrated by Ulla Saar, 54 pp
Ma elan hästi (I Am Doing Well), Härra Tee & proua Kohvi, 2016,  illustrated by Ulla Saar, 32 pp
Kirju koer (Ten Little Butterflies), Härra Tee & proua Kohvi 2014, illustrated by Marion Undusk, 64 pp
Koju (Homeward), Härra Tee & proua Kohvi 2014, illustrated by Marja-Liisa Plats, 48 pp
Kui ma oleksin vanaisa (If I Were a Grandpa), Päike ja Pilv 2013, illustrated by Marion Undusk, 80 pp; Härra Tee & proua Kohvi 2020, illustrated by Kadi Kurema, 40 pp
Meie suur puu (Our Big Tree), Päike ja Pilv 2012, illustrated by Louise Duneton, 48 pp
Enne kooli (Before School), Kirjastuskeskus 2009, illustrated by Andres Varustin, 88 pp