Tómas Zoëga och Sólrún Ylfa Ingimarsdóttir

Tómas Zoëga och Sólrún Ylfa Ingimarsdóttir (ill.): Skrímslavinafélagið. Children’s book, Forlagið, 2023. Nominated for the 2024 Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize.


Skrímslavinafélagið (“The Secret Society of Monster Friends”, not translated into English) is about Stefanía and Pétur, who play together every day down by the dirty stream in the schoolyard and collect brave moss snails hiding among rusty shopping carts. We also meet Jóhann Steinn, who has just joined Stefanía’s class. It quickly becomes apparent that Pétur doesn’t like his new classmate at all and believes there’s no room for more than two in his and Stefanía’s secret club.  


Skrímslavinafélagið is about everyday challenges seen from young readers’ perspectives in a simple and well-executed narrative, written with respect for the children. There is no focus on moralising; the strength of the book lies more in blending everyday life with an imaginative mindset. The authors have a unique way of highlighting all the insignificant and even fantastic things that characterise childhood. 


Stefanía and Pétur extract a sample of some mysterious black powder produced by the wall of their school and show it to the local witch. Here, the child’s perspective becomes even clearer. The witch is an older woman in the neighbourhood who is slightly different from the traditional notion, without too much emphasis being placed on it. An adult reader realises what substance the children have found. Mold in school buildings is a common issue and even a societal problem in Iceland. But what adults view with great seriousness becomes a fantastic adventure for the children. 


The characterisation in the book is particularly entertaining and shines best when the friends have to contend with external circumstances. Stefanía is curious, daring, and proactive, while Pétur is cautious and takes no unnecessary risks, neither with people nor with nature. Stefanía is a strong role model. She doesn’t tease, she’s energetic, and she’s fun, but she also guides her friend. Pétur, on the other hand, tends to become insecure. The dynamics between the characters help young readers develop a moral compass without it being directly imposed on them. 


Sólrún Ylfa’s illustrations are colourful and vibrant, full of humour and little funny moments that make the book even more inviting. The style is targeted, and the illustrations complement the book’s text with their simplicity and numerous details.  


The book is about friendship, about complications when two friends become three, about feeling left out, and about being allowed to join in. It invites conversations about decisions in children’s daily lives, their consequences for themselves and others, and about how to take responsibility for their actions. The theme has a direct connection to the reality of Icelandic children, but the problems conveyed never overshadow the adventure. 


Tómas Zoëga is a PhD student at the University of Oslo, alongside his career as an author. In 2020, he received the Icelandic Audiobook Award in the category of children’s and youth books for the children’s book Vetrargestir. Sólrún Ylfa Ingimarsdóttir is a violinist, illustrator, and animator. She has illustrated children’s books and created stop-motion short films. Sólrún is studying violin at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen. Tómas and Sólrún Ylfa won a conference organised by Reykjavik City Library and Reykjavik City of Literature for the best advent calendar story in 2020 with the story Nornin í eldhúsinu