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About the author
Andrus Kivirähk (1970) is a playwright, topical satirist, screenwriter, and author of adult and children’s prose. He graduated from the University of Tartu in journalism and is the most commanding and prolific figure on Estonia’s literary scene today. Kivirähk has won many major awards, including the IBBY Honour List in 2008. His children’s stories are known for their rich fantasy and unique humour. Kivirähk’s style is straightforward, his stories fast-paced, and their cast of characters colourful and filled with 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 Nukits Award, which is picked by children, speaks for itself. (Mari Niitra, researcher)
Andrus Kivirähk – the favourite author of young demanding readers
Novels, novellas, plays, opinion pieces, and radio programs – Andrus Kivirähk is so active in so many different creative fields that it is difficult to classify him into any one category. Defining him in the field of children’s literature is no simpler. He has written plays, short stories, and longer prose for children, and has even been a co-screenwriter of several popular animated films.
The broad spectrum of Kivirähk’s creative works also means he doesn’t aim to prove himself or channel anything through his children’s literature. He writes only when he has no other choice, which is why every one of his works is pure gold. They quickly earn the favor of children and adults, often make a buzz in the media (intentional or not), and win one or more of a variety of Estonian children’s literature awards, for the most part. First print runs are closely followed by additional editions and translations.
Kivirähk entered the children’s literary scene in 1995 with his veritably revolutionary book The Giraffe. Its protagonist is a little girl named Kai, who embodies the new values of a new generation. Whereas Kai’s parents are practical-minded good eaters, the girl herself is picky about food, but has an imagination that makes up for her imperfection in terms of liveliness. However, as her parents fail to understand her vivid and rich imagination, little Kai feels quite alone. The tapeworm Tõnis – which her parents believe she has – understands the girl and helps her find focus in a lonely world.
Sirli, Siim, and the Secrets (1999) similarly addresses feelings of loneliness, but from a slightly different angle. The work emphasizes that the line between people with practical and more stimulating dispositions does not divide them by age. Both the children (Siim is a wizard and Sirli keeps company with cloud ballerinas) and adults (Mom is the queen of a castle and Dad is unbeatable at athletics) have their own respective worlds of secrets, as do most of the other characters. Only the writer Mr. Lamb has forgotten his dreams. His drab life only regains its color once he remembers the dreams he had in childhood.
Lotte’s Journey South (2002) set a precedent in Estonian children’s literature. Whereas it is common for literary characters to go from books to film reels, the opposite was true with Lotte. Just as in the animated film of same title (2000), the dog-girl Lotte lends a hand to her inventor father and an old explorer dog in helping the lost chick Pipo return south to his grandmother. Lotte the dog-girl is just like a human child – curious and hungry for knowledge, a little timid, and at the same time longing for adventure. She and all the other characters have their minor flaws but are good by nature – no one hurts or bullies anyone else over the course of the book. Could this be the reason why in addition to literature (the sequel Lotte from Gadgetville was published in 2006), Lotte has also become the protagonist of several children’s plays, ABCs books, and animated films?
Kivirähk’s children’s storybook Limpa and the Pirates (2004) also raised a furor, as it was commissioned by the large Estonian beer and soft drink manufacturer A. Le Coq, the corporate mascot of which is the pig character Limpa. Estonia’s media entered a heated debate about the relationship between children’s literature, advertising, and financing, in which Kivirähk was accused of selling out and abandoning his creative freedom. The author himself parried the criticism by claiming the protagonist’s name in no way affected the quality of his writing – which is likely true. In fact, Kivirähk’s characters particularly spice up the work – there aren’t many books in which pajamas are depicted as ferocious pirates in a crib-ship named The Dark Dream. The leader of the gang is a pillow who earned his stripes in the Pillow Fights and was hit by Treasure Island.
The title of Kivirähk’s 2009 collection of children’s short stories, which were earlier published in the media, received intense criticism as well – Poo and Spring. His similar collections Carnival and Potato Salad (2015) and The Ghost and Facebook (2019) were strong proof that the popularity of Kivirähk’s writing is guaranteed by more than just his choice of titles. The author’s witty short stories have clearly perceptible thoughtful undertones – they are tied together by a warm, heartfelt fantasy world populated by a range of colorful characters. No matter whether these figures constitute humans, animals, objects, fantastical creatures, or foods, the author treats them all with the utmost warmth and respect.
In Kivirähk’s children’s novel Oscar and the Things (2015), he returns to a familiar topic – loneliness. Oscar has finished preschool and is looking forward to his first year of school. However, he is first forced to spend three summer months living with his grandmother in the countryside while his mother receives training in the US and his father is at work. The boy has yet to forge any deep ties with the faraway relative whom he and his parents visited infrequently up until then. As is the case with many of his peers, Oscar’s mobile is like a security blanket. Alas, he forgets it at home and is overwhelmed by an even greater sense of abandonment without the electronic device. Luckily, Oscar manages to find a way out of the grim situation – he crafts a wooden mobile that allows him to speak to objects, which enriches the boy’s life and ultimately helps him connect to his grandmother.
The plot of Kivirähk’s latest children’s book, Tilda and the Dust Angel (2018), revolves around a girl named Tilda who lives with her widowed mother. Tilda’s father died when she was very young, so she has no memories of him. At the same time, her mother refuses to discuss the subject. When their home is left uncleaned for several days, Tilda is visited by the Dust Angel. In Kivirähk’s fantasy, dust is something that contains the past and memories. If it weren’t for dust, people would forget their feelings, where they came from, and would care only for the future. Then, the world would be pure and orderly like a computer game or a sterile hospital.
Indeed, none of Kivirähk’s children’s books are written simply for writing’s sake. Readers can easily tell that he crafts his stories with goals and thorough consideration, addressing important contemporary issues while still observing them from eternal standpoints. A light and positive feeling thus washes over you whenever you finish one of his works – everything fits. The world around you seems brighter, the sky vaster, and your worries trivial. It’s not uncommon for Kivirähk’s newest book to quickly disappear from bookstore shelves, forcing eager readers to wait for another fresh shipment from the print house. Do we really have cause to complain that children don’t read as much as they should? Is it possible they simply have high demands?
Written by Jaanika Palm
Translated by Adam Cullen
Published in Estonian Literary Magazine, no. 50, spring 2020
|The Ghost and Facebook
The cast of characters in Andrus Kivirähk’s new collection of children’s stories includes ghosts and laptops, dogs and cats, kids and grown-ups, sauna whisks and caterpillars. They build birdhouses, go to plays, grow nettles, and take trips to The Avocado. A year simply flies by when you have good friends and exciting individuals all around. You’re made stronger by your escapades and find yourself quite many an experience richer.
|Tilda and the Dust Angel
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. Tilda’s mom refuses to talk about the girl’s late dad, which makes her extremely sad. Yet one day, after Tilda has forgotten to clean her room for a long while, the Dust Angel arrives: a nifty little creature who can only be seen by those who are born in the sunshine.
|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 samples: 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.
2020 Nukits Competition, 1st place (The Ghost and Facebook)
2019 Good Children’s Book (The Ghost and Facebook)
2019 “Järje Hoidja” Award of the Tallinn Central Library (Tilda and the Dust Angel)
2018 Annual Children’s Literature Award of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (Tilda and the Dust Angel)
2018 Good Children’s Book (Tilda and the Dust Angel)
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)
2012 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award candidate
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)
2005 “Järje Hoidja” Award of the Tallinn Central Library (Limpa and the Pirates)
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), Helsinki: WSOY 2018
Latvian: Karnevāls un kartupeļu salāti, Rīga: Liels un mazs 2016
Russian: Карнавал и картофельный салат, Tallinn: Varrak 2016
A Frog Kiss
German: Frösche küssen, Potsdam: Willegoos 2015
Russian: Поцелуй лягушку! Tallinn: Varrak 2014
Russian: Жираф, Tallinn: Издательство КПД 2008
Limpa and the Pirates
Russian: Лимпа и пираты, Tallinn: Varrak 2009
Lotte from Gadgetville
Latvian: Lote no Izgudrotāju ciema, Rīga: Zvaigzne ABC 2010
Russian: Лотте из Деревни Изобретателей, Tallinn: Eesti Päevaleht 2009
Finnish: Keksijäkylän Lotta, Helsinki: Otava 2008
Lotte’s Journey South
Italian: Lotte. L’avventuroso viaggio al sud, Vittorio Veneto: De Bastiani 2019
Russian: Путешествие Лотты в тёплые края, Tallinn: Eesti Joonisfilm 2017
Latvian: Lotes ceļojums uz dienvidiem, Rīga: Zvaigzne ABC 2013
Oskar and the Things
Slovenian: Oskar in govoreči predmeti, Ljubljana: KUD Sodobnost 2020
Russian: Оскар и вещи, Tallinn: Издательство КПД 2019
Latvian: Oskars un lietas, Rīga: Liels un mazs 2018
Polish: Oskar i rzeczy, Piaseczno: Widnokrąg 2018
Poo and Spring
Finnish: Koiranne alkaa kohta kukkia, Helsinki: Otava 2016
German: Der Schiet und das Frühjahr, Potsdam: Willegoos 2015
Low German: De Schiet un dat Fröhjohr, Lümborg (Lüneburg): Plaggenhauer 2015
Latvian: Kaka un pavasaris, Rīga: Liels un mazs 2012
Russian: Весна и какашка, Tallinn: Varrak 2010
Sirli, Siim and the Secrets
Slovenian: Sara, Simon in skrivnosti, Ljubljana: KUD Sodobnost International 2015
Lithuanian: Sirlė, Simas ir slėpiniai, Vilnius: Kronta 2010
Latvian: Sirli, Sīms un noslēpumi, Rīga: Liels un mazs 2009
Hungarian: Sári, Samu és a titkok, Szentendre: Cerkabella 2008
Russian: Сирли, Сийм и секреты, Tallinn: Издательство КПД 2008
Tilda and the Dust Angel
Latvian: Tilda un putekļu eņģelis, Rīga: Zvaigzne ABC 2020
Russian: Тильда и Пылевичок, Tallinn: Aleksandra 2019
Tont ja Facebook (The Ghost and Facebook), Varrak 2019, illustrated by Heiki Ernits, 128 pp
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