Ylva Karlsson and Sara Lundberg (ill.)

Ylva Karlsson og Sara Lundberg
Kajsa Göransson
Ylva Karlsson and Sara Lundberg (ill.): Jag och alla. Picture book, Rabén & Sjögren, 2020. Nominated for the 2021 Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize.

Who hasn’t wondered what it’s like to be someone else? Jag och alla (“I and everyone”, not translated into English) addresses this existential issue from a child’s perspective, using beautiful illustrations and text to depict both little and large worlds that touch the reader.

The book is like a relay, where a child on the edge of one spread – sometimes not even visible – becomes the main character on the next spread. This shows how we shape one another’s lives and are connected in a finely woven web.

During the journey, we encounter the world of both the little and the large reader, not only as these appear from the outside, but also through the big inner life that the various children may have, with their different personalities and experiences.

Author Ylva Karlsson’s text shows a strong sense of empathy for both day-to-day life and for our musings over life’s mysteries. She does not weigh in on the child’s thoughts about death, whether of a grandmother or a white cat. Instead she shows how death is a part of the life that the book speaks to and celebrates. 

Illustrator Sara Lundberg’s paintings interact harmoniously with the text, radiating quiet reflection. They also stand on their own and take up just the right amount of space. They flow out and give the text an airiness, while also creating the strongest of bonds with the text. The illustrations maintain a consistent colour scale that, while not necessarily subdued, is still soothing. The flowing watercolours and clear brushstrokes combined with harder crayon lines bring the images to life and allow the colours to bounce off each other in a way that almost makes the images move. The illustrations also have a certain suggestive ambiguity, though, which interacts with the philosophical tone of the story and its positioning between fantasy and reality. An almost exhausted facial feature is nevertheless extremely sharp in the world that Lundberg’s illustrations and Karlsson’s text invite us into. 

Finally, we return to the first child in the story, in what seems to be a circular composition, but the baton is then passed on to the reader in an ending that paves the way for further thought.