Adventures with a goblin teach a young Swedish boy about Christmas magic, loyalty and family in this collection of connected stories.
After penning six fictional works and one biography, Caulfield (World War II Army Nurse, 2013, etc.) is at her storytelling best in these six Christmas tales set in her native Sweden. Their hero, a young boy named Björn, lives with his family on a farm in Dalecarlia. Part of the stories’ charm comes from the author’s evocation of life on the farm—an area lovely in summer, with “warm, sunny days and cool evenings,” but snowy, icy and dangerous after midwinter solstice. Björn’s Christmas experiences become more challenging in each story as he moves from age 6 to 12. Caulfield’s gradual approach enables young readers to share Björn’s insights and see where the sometimes rash and selfish boy might need to improve his behavior. Each year, Björn gains a new understanding of forgiveness, love, family and community, thanks in part to his visits with Nisse, a short, stocking-capped, mysterious and powerful tomte, goblin, who hides in the barn. The boy comes to realize why legend has taught farmers to honor these centuries-old creatures; Nisse demands respect in the form of porridge after Christmas Eve dinner, but he also needs more than a hollow ritual. Only Björn seems to be able to chat with Nisse, and with him, the boy visits various tunnels and secret rooms. The lad’s hardworking parents, occupied with responsibilities and chores, often seem oblivious to his opinions, but grandmother Farmor and grandfather Farfar remember Nisse’s magic and assist Björn in his adventures. Modern life intrudes in the longest story, “The Unwelcome Stranger,” when the boy’s parents bring home Ibrahim, a strange child who speaks no Swedish, to become his new brother. Björn comes to love him, however, and Nisse’s magic cap helps save the day when immigration officials arrive to take Ibrahim away.
These stories’ engaging blend of reality and fantasy moves the action along while giving young readers a taste of Swedish folklore.