Teenage bedroom bookshelves are filled with problematic plastics, dystopian adventures, climate heroes and stories about nature. With constant headlines about the climate crisis, waste and threatened species, it is not surprising that the environmental theme is taking up more and more space in children’s and young people’s literature.
The new anthology The Length and Breadth of the Nordic Region: Ecocritical currents in Nordic children’s and young people’s literature provides an insight into the latest trends and illustrates how the climate crisis and environmental issues are communicated to young Nordic readers. The anthology, the second in a trilogy, combines research-heavy essays, cutting-edge drama and unique illustrations.
Climate crisis: Concerns and faith in the future
Plastic and the climate in non-fiction, plants and animals as main characters, environmental activists, waste and ethics are just some of the many themes and angles discussed in the anthology’s nine essays. Lydia Wistisen, Associate Professor in children’s and young people’s literature at the Department of Culture and Aesthetics, Stockholm University, contributes “The children’s book in the wasteocene: A study of the relationship between nature, culture and rubbish in Linda Bondestam’s My Life at the Bottom (2020)”. She says:
“In My Life at the Bottom, nature is not a passive victim of human exploitation. The representation of rubbish and pollution is consistently imaginative and aesthetically challenging. In the quote below Bondestam depicts an Earth whose ecosystems are very fragile, but also strong and full of vitality. The hundreds of axolotls on the cover in many ways resemble the spread of humans over the globe. While the book gives no direct answers, maybe humans have been swept away by the waves. Maybe the age of waste has given way to the age of the axolotl.”
“Nobody knew where the big chunks went, but we didn’t really ever think about that.” (Quote from the book “My Life at the Bottom” (2020) by Linda Bondestam.)
Specially written eco-dramas
The anthology also contains seven unique eco-dramas written in collaboration between some of the authors and illustrators who participated in the three-day seminar “The World in Transformation”, from which the anthology sprang. These include “The Fortified World” by Ragnheiður Eyjolfsdóttir and Kamila Slocinska, “A Thousand Toads through the Grass” by Tyra Teodora Tronstad and Karen Filskov, and “Aksel Pedersen’s Dive” by Arne Svingen and Linda Bondestam.
Sofie Hermansen Eriksdatter, project manager of both the seminar and the anthology, and head of the Secretariat for the Nordic Council literature prizes, says, enthusiastically:
“It is extremely inspiring to be able to help create this synergy, by establishing a meeting place where researchers, authors and illustrators in children’s and young people’s literature in the Nordic Region are given the opportunity to be inspired and share their knowledge, work and experience with each other. These seven eco-dramas, with their powerful stories and beautiful illustrations, make this year’s anthology something extra-special.”
Unique Nordic co-operation
“The Length and Breadth of the Nordic Region” is a network platform that disseminates current research and knowledge about children’s and young people’s literature in the Nordic Region. The seminar “The World in Transformation: Ecocritical currents in Nordic children’s and young people’s literature”, held in autumn 2020, was the second in a series of three events. It brought together 35 authors, illustrators, publishers, researchers and other actors in Nordic children’s and young people’s literature to explore ecocritical trends in contemporary literature.
The contributions to the anthology are in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish.
About the initiative
The initiative is part of “LØFTET”, the culture ministers’ focus on children and young people’s literature, which began in 2013 when the Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize was established. The objective of this three-year project with annual seminars is to create a hotbed for a broad Nordic exchange in the Nordic children and young people’s literature environment by way of a dynamic inter-aesthetic and interdisciplinary group of participants.