Fredrik Sonck and Jenny Lucander

Niklas Sandström / Linus Lindholm
Fredrik Sonck and Jenny Lucander (ill.): Freja och huggormen. Picture book, Förlaget, 2023. Nominated for the 2024 Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize.


The sea is sparkling and Freja’s family is staying at their summer house in the Ålandic archipelago. The idyll is suddenly disturbed by a viper that appears among the stones on the beach. The adults decide it has to go, and say they have to think about the little brother’s safety. The father first tries to catch the snake with a stick to take it away, but when that fails, his patience runs out and he kills the viper instead. Freya, who named the viper Ormis, is dismayed. She turns to her father and calls him a murderer. She refuses to talk to him the whole day and only in the evening, after the two have talked about the incident and their feelings, can they finally reconcile.  


In the picture book Freja och huggormen (“Freja and the viper”, not translated into English) there are several large and interesting topics to be discussed when reading aloud: death, animal rights, and human power over nature and over who gets to live or die. You might even talk about how fear and frustration can make a person do things that they otherwise wouldn’t have done. The author Fredrik Sonck has a lovely children’s perspective in his story and the child’s feelings are taken seriously. The adult reader can also identify with the different roles that an adult can be forced to play, such as the male role. Even if the father turns out to be a mean snake catcher, he’s still the one who feels compelled to solve the problem. 


The illustrations show the humour in the calamity, and illustrator Jenny Lucander conveys many different emotions in the characters’ expressive faces. She uses a wide spectrum of colours to illustrate the lively family and their day-to-day life in the cabin. The surrounding Ålandic summer environment often stretches across entire beautiful spreads. She depicts death with a tribute to the artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela and his famous painting Lemminkäinens moder from the epic Kalevala. In Gallen-Kallela’s painting, a grieving mother is seen with her dead hero of a son at the river’s edge where Tuonela’s swan swims. In Lucander’s equally dramatic version, Freja is seen sitting at the edge of the beach next to the dead viper and the blue water has been dyed black as a white swan watches on.  


It is an extraordinary everyday story about existentialism and humanity told from a child’s perspective, with masterful illustrations that interact well with the story. The author Fredrik Sonck (born in 1982) is a journalist and works as CEO of Ålands radio och tv. The illustrator Jenny Lucander (born in 1975) lives in Helsinki and is an established image maker. Sonck and Lucander together published the picture book Freja och kråkungen in 2020, the first book about Freja. Jenny Lucander has also won the Nordic Council Children and Young People’s literature prize together with Sweden’s Jens Mattsson in 2020 with the picture book Vi är lajon!. She has enjoyed several successful collaborations with authors from other Nordic countries and has also been nominated for the 2024 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA).