The day-to-day life of nine-year-old Vega is full of exciting animals in different colours and shapes. Her dad doesn’t see the animals and doesn’t like Vega talking about them. Another thing they don’t talk about is Vega’s mum. Vega knows nothing about her and even wonders if she’s still alive and, if so, where she might be. Although Grandpa Hektor doesn’t answer Vega’s questions either, he can see all the colourful animals that thrive in his garden on Giraffe Island, where they live. There are spoonbills, warrens, pinefinches, and many others. Every day Grandpa is visited by “secret agents” who check that he has taken his medicine and who write secret reports. One day at school, the children receive letters from pen pals on the mainland who are the same age as them. Vega begins exchanging letters with a girl who lives in a circus. She also meets a boy named Nelson in Grandpa’s garden who has a giant dog called Flor. Nelson collects interesting facts in his notebook and helps Vega with her detective work on her mum. When Dad tells her he’s met a new woman, Vega thinks their whole existence will freeze over, but as luck would have it, she also picks up a trace of her mum. In Grandpa’s self-constructed biscuit-mobile, which emits cookies instead of exhaust gases, she sets off on a journey with Nelson, Grandpa, and Flor in the footsteps of her mum.
This timeless and life-affirming adventure marks the debut of the Ålandic Chanfreau sisters, the story being written by Sofia (born in 1986) and the images created by Amanda (born in 1983), a tattoo artist and illustrator. Amanda’s detailed pencil illustrations, which teem with small animals in every corner, are reminiscent of both the imaginative fairy-tale world of Swedish illustrator Hans Arnold and the whimsical illustrations of picture book creator Sven Nordqvist. Amanda’s exotic visual world has been inspired primarily by time spent living in Mexico, and the creative processes of both sisters are clearly influenced by other countries and cultures. The magical realism permeating the story is typical of Latin American literary traditions whereby fantastic elements often appear as something natural in a realistic reality.
The book also hints at Michael Ende’s classic fantasy adventure Den oändliga historien, where the main character escapes their arduous day-to-day life by flying into a fantasy world where he rides a dog-like lucky dragon, not unlike the giant dog Flor. Even as the Chanfreau sisters’ work overflows with imagination, in its text and images you can still recognise Åland and the city of Mariehamn. The illustrations, which offer a bird’s-eye view of the Åland Islands, where the fantasy animal flies on albatrosses, come across as both realistic and magical. The fantasy elements in Giraffens hjärta är ovanligt stort (“A Giraffe’s Heart is Unusually Large”, not published in English) make this a multi-faceted story and pave the way for children and adults to interpret the book in different ways. An innovative and completely unique work, it won the Finlandia Prize for Children’s and Young People’s Literature in 2022 and received an honourable mention at the Runeberg Junior Competition in 2023.