IF YOU DIDN'T HAVE ME by Ulf Nilsson


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Like the beautifully composed fiction of Maria Gripe, this portrait of a small Swedish boy (5 or 6?) spending the summer on a farm with his grandmother while "". . .Papa and Mama were building a house for us in town. . ."" employs precise, evocative descriptions and perceptive exploration of the concerns of a curious, self-sufficient child; but, unfortunately, American boys and girls rarely take the intense interest in a younger child that this book demands of its reader. Some of the 11 innocent adventures of the unnamed narrator are contemplative, like imagining himself in charge of the burgeoning spring. Others have the quaint charm of a small person trying his hand at big responsibility, like fixing Grandma's breakfast or feeding the pigs and chickens, whose importunate enthusiasm so overwhelms him that he's caught atop the fence between them. Quietly, Nilsson arranges the milieu for more momentous events with an underlay of the life-cycle that must include death: conversations With the philosophical farmhand, Edwin; a visit to a great-aunt in a nursing home; the sad, graphically described, necessary butchering of the old mother pig, Emma; the boy's running away, testing whether his long-absent parents or any of the others want him, musing about death. The conclusion, at night and in the fall, casts a shadow over the imminent reunion with the parents and the unknown mysteries to come, as suggested, in cousin Cilla's love stories. A somber, well-crafted book but with limited appeal for American children.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1987
Page count: 96pp
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry/Macmillan