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A TO ZÅÄÖ by Nate Christopherson


Playing With History at the American Swedish Institute

by Nate Christopherson & Tara Sweeney with Inga Theissen ; illustrated by Nate Christopherson & Tara Sweeney

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-5179-0788-4
Publisher: Univ. of Minnesota

In this longer-than-usual picture book, the Swedish alphabet is paired with illustrations of selected objects in the collection of the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.

The concept is ambitious: to give readers a taste of the Swedish language, culture, and migration story to America by organizing simple Swedish words in alphabetical order (with their English translations but no pronunciation guide) and pairing them with paintings of objects displayed in the Turnblad Mansion, the former residence of 19th-century Swedish immigrants and ASI founders Swan and Christina Turnblad. Following this alphabet section, the book becomes an exploration of history, presenting photos of the previously illustrated objects and relaying stories of their provenance alongside sidebars of the people connected with them. While the watercolor illustrations are gorgeous, masterfully imbuing delicate light and shadow, and the historical information is fascinating, the project bogs down in attempting too many connections. The Swedish word accompanying the object illustration is often not the object’s name (as readers may logically expect) but rather a simple action word (or words) that begins with the necessary alphabet letter. Trying to connect the word and the illustration, small pen-and-ink figures, related “historically or via…imagination” to the object, are drawn on and around the watercolor (and too often in the gutter). It’s a neat concept, but it becomes confusing and, since the figures are cumulative, crowded.

This ambitious project delivers fascinating history and beautiful illustrations but attempts too many creative connections.

(authors’ notes) (Informational picture book. 8-12)