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About the author
Anti Saar (1980) is a writer and translator who graduated from the University of Tartu in semiotics. Saar has translated over 30 works from French into Estonian and has written ten highly popular children’s books to date. He enjoyed immediate acclaim with his first book The Way Things Are with Us, which was selected for the 2014 White Ravens Catalogue in addition to receiving several awards in Estonia. Saar immerses himself in the world of children and is capable of glimpsing what is special in ordinary everyday life. His stories, which tend to ricochet from reality, are fluid, witty, and sensitively worded.
Anti Saar’s recipe for a great children’s book
Anti Saar (1980) is one of the most interesting and distinctive members of the younger generation of Estonian children’s writers. After graduating with a degree in semiotics from the University of Tartu, he began writing poetic prose for adults and translating both fiction and non-fiction from French into Estonian. All these tightly-bound contributing factors – a polished style, a light and free French spirit, and deeply-embedded philosophical content – are fascinatingly wound into Saar’s children’s literature.
Saar rose onto the Estonian literary scene like a dazzling comet with his debut children’s storybook Kuidas meil asjad käivad (The Way Things Are with Us, 2013). It’s rather uncommon for a debutant to receive not just one, but two major awards in what is otherwise a very stable literary field. Nevertheless, the book won both the Raisin of the Year Award and the more prestigious Cultural Endowment of Estonia’s Award for Children’s Literature – Saar stood out among his peers for his exceptionally fresh and novel style. At the center of the plot is a fun little family whose everyday adventures are told by the preschool-boy, Vassel. The boy explains how they cook and eat, drive and forget things, get ready for Christmas and tell scary stories. Saar creates a literary world that is warm and heartfelt, and while it has its share of problems, difficulties, flubs, and failures, the supportive ties of the family within establish a safety net that every one of us so dearly longs to have.
Warmth and a sense of sticking together are also vividly expressed in Saar’s illustrated children’s book Külaskäik (The Visit, 2017), which tells of a boy who goes to visit his grandfather in the countryside for the first time since his grandmother’s death. Deep sorrow leads him on a journey into an apple, during which various memories of his late grandmother surface. Having taken comfort from these fond recollections, the boy finds the courage to carry on.
We meet Saar’s favorite character in his five-book Pärt Series: starring a tyke who encounters a whole range of dilemmas both big and small. Pärt could conceptually be Vassel’s little brother, likewise living in a quaint little town with his wonderful mother and supportive father. In addition to his parents, however, Pärt has an older brother named Joosep and a little sister named Leenu. The boys share similar personalities: they are attentive observers, curious, and have a strong sense of right and wrong. Both are fairly selfish and self-centered, but what matters most is their determination and resourcefulness at finding ways out of tough situations. As such, Pärt isn’t daunted whenever he must face the fiery and motormouthed neighbor-girl Kaisa, who criticizes him for his poor trampoline skills (Pärt Can’t Do a Backflip, 2017). Even a trip to the grocery store with his father can pose challenges. Once the pair finish shopping and get in the check-out line, Pärt’s dad realizes he forgot to get yeast. He leaves Pärt holding their cornucopian shopping basket and their place in line, and disappears amidst the aisles (Stand Here, Pärt!, 2018). When a ripe plum falls before Pärt’s feet as he’s walking home from school, the boy is faced with a dilemma – he sunk his teeth into the fruit without a second thought, but now he’s hungry for more. Pärt would gladly stuff his cheeks with more, but none of the rest show any signs they might fall from their branches anytime soon. The boy wonders whom the plums belong to when they’re hanging from a branch over the sidewalk that’s attached to a tree in a stranger’s yard, as well as what he might be able to do to make another plump fruit drop all on its own so he can munch on it guilt-free (Pärt and the Plums, 2019). The boy’s patience is seriously put to the test when there’s one left-over slice of a cake his aunt brought them (Pärt and the Last Piece of Cake, 2018), as well as when he misses his stop when taking the bus home from school (Pärt Goes Full Circle, 2019).
There isn’t much external activity in Saar’s Pärt books, but the fact is compensated by strong inner dynamics, i.e. the boy’s buzzing thought process. The writing resembles the boy’s stream of consciousness, free-flowing and unimpeded. Very few authors are capable of applying such a style successfully and in a way that captivates readers – only writers who possess a sufficient degree of emotional intelligence and self-confidence; who are articulate and perceptive in their word usage.
Since his very first work, Saar has stood out as possessing a keen understanding of child’s psychology and being adept at putting it into words. For him, a little boy’s world is as limitless as the cosmos and is packed with surprises, puzzles, and mystery. At the same time, this world also contains rationality and practical aspects that match the boy’s level of experience. When reading Saar’s works, one never doubts who is describing the events as they unfold – without exception, it’s preschooler Vassel or just-turned-seven Pärt; never an adroit author weighing what might sound better or have more of an impact.
Saar’s stories are easy for young readers to follow and be swept along with, but at the same time they are intriguing and inspire them to think, brimming with dilemmas faced by completely ordinary children. As many people have no doubt found themselves in Vassel’s and Pärt’s positions at some time or another, readers can smoothly slip into the boy’s shoes, accompanying him through the tremulous emotions, and drawing comparisons to their own lives. Saar has a sharp eye for what is special in a regular kid’s mundane life: simply jumping on a trampoline on a summer morning, taking an everyday trip to the grocery store to pick up the essentials, or coming across a plum on the sidewalk can be a true adventure for the protagonist – something even akin to discovering unknown lands or taming savage lions. As he describes life through the eyes of a child, the author is able to put aside his own personal experience and start with a blank page every time. Consequently, his storytelling is genuine, refreshing, and engaging from start to finish. Saar knows the recipe for a great children’s book.
Written by Jaanika Palm
Translated by Adam Cullen
Published in Estonian Literary Magazine, no. 49, autumn 2019
|Pärt Goes Full Circle
After a long day at school, Pärt rides the bus home. Exhaustion gets the better of him as his eyelids sink shut. When he wakes up with a start, the bus doors are already closing and the vehicle is pulling away from his home stop. Pärt doesn’t know what to do – he certainly can’t ask the driver to halt or turn around and drop him off at the right place!
|Pärt and the Plums
As Pärt is plodding home from school, a big blue plum falls on the sidewalk in front of him. Without thinking twice, the boy picks it up and sinks his teeth into it. How delicious it is! Pärt would gladly pop a few more of the sweet plums into his mouth, but the rest of them have no intention of falling – they simply swing softly on the tree in a stranger’s yard.
|Pärt and the Last Piece of Cake
Aunt Asta comes to visit with a cake box under her arm. It’s a Napoleon cake, which is Pärt’s favorite! When she cuts it into six pieces, the boy realizes that if everyone takes one slice, then there will still be one left over. To make sure he gets the last one, Pärt modestly takes the slimmest slice of all at first. Yet once he finishes eating, the boy suddenly loses the nerve to ask for the very last piece..
|Stand Here, Pärt!
Pärt and his dad go to the grocery store. Once they’ve selected their purchases, they get in line to pay. But then, Dad remembers he forgot to get yeast. He asks Pärt to keep their place in line with the shopping basket and vanishes among the aisles in a flash. Pärt waits, feeling like a big boy. But the fewer customers there are left ahead of him, the more he starts to worry.
|Pärt Can’t Do a Backflip
One day when Pärt goes outside, the neighbor-girl Kaisa is already jumping on the trampoline. She starts teasing the boy because he can’t do a backflip. At first, he tries to ignore Kaisa, but she won’t quit taunting him. Pärt becomes furious, but he can’t hit her because only one person is allowed on the trampoline at a time.
In spring, when the apple trees begin to blossom, Robby’s grandmother dies. When autumn arrives and the apples are ripe on the trees, the boy decides to visit his grandfather in the countryside, even though he reckons it will be a sad trip to take alone. He and his grandfather go fishing together, play checkers, and watch football on TV.
Young and talented Estonian writer Anti Saar’s Storybook contains ten philosophical tales of bizarre adults. Among these are Hillar, who takes a long time to work up momentum for everything he does; Vahur, who is practicing for a complete change of scenery; Jaanus, who is enthralled by water toys; Asko, who wishes to be average at everything; Timmy, who has lost his shadow; and others.
|The Way Things Are With Us
The Way Things Are With Us is a humorous book about life in a completely ordinary family. Vassel lives in a nice little Estonian town with his mother, father, and little brother Joona, who is just two-and-a-half years old. Vassel shows the way things are in his family – how they read, write, and draw; cook and eat; tell ghost stories; argue; wait up for elves to bring presents around Christmastime; drive in the car; go to sleep; get lost; play football...
Reading samples: English, French
2018 Raisin of the Year Award (Milda, Master Michel, and I)
2018 Good Children’s Book (Stand Here, Pärt!)
2018 “Järje Hoidja” Award of the Tallinn Central Library (Pärt Can’t Do a Backflip)
2017 Good Children’s Book (The Visit)
2015 Good Children’s Book (Urmas the Maintenance Man)
2014 The White Ravens (The Way Things Are With Us)
2013 Annual Children’s Literature Award of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (The Way Things Are With Us)
2013 Raisin of the Year Award (The Way Things Are With Us)
2013 Good Children’s Book (The Way Things Are With Us)
The Way Things Are With Us
Hungarian: Így mennek nálunk a dolgok, Cser 2018
Polish: Ja, Jonasz i cała reszta, Wydawnictwo Widnokrąg 2018
Latvian: Tā iet mūsu lietas, Liels un mazs 2017
Russian in Estonia: Как у нас идут дела, Издательство «КПД» 2017
The Story of an Invention (chapter from the “Storybook”)
Italian: Una piccola grande invenzione, Sinnos 2017
Pärt läheb uuele ringile (Pärt Goes Full Circle), Päike ja Pilv 2019, illustrated by Anna Ring, 25 pp
Mina, Milda ja meister Michel (Milda, Master Michel, and I), Eesti Kunstimuuseum 2018, illustrated by Urmas Viik, 81 pp
Pärt ja ploomid (Pärt and Plums), Päike ja Pilv 2018, illustrated by Anna Ring, 25 pp
Pärt ja viimane koogitükk (Pärt and the Last Piece of Cake), Päike ja Pilv 2018, illustrated by Anna Ring, 25 pp
Seisa siin, Pärt! (Stand Here, Pärt!), Päike ja Pilv 2018, illustrated by Anna Ring, 25 pp
Külaskäik (The Visit), Päike ja Pilv 2017, illustrated by Anna Ring, 24 pp
Pärt ei oska saltot (Pärt Can’t Do a Backflip), Päike ja Pilv 2017, illustrated by Anna Ring, 25 pp
Juturaamat (Storybook), Tänapäev 2016, illustrated by Jüri Mildeberg, 76 pp
Kojamees Urmas (Urmas the Maintenance Man), Päike ja Pilv 2015, illustrated by Ulla Saar, 32 pp
Kuidas meil asjad käivad (The Way Things Are With Us), Tänapäev 2013, illustrated by Alvar Jaakson, 136 pp