scorecardresearch Skip to main content

What to read with the kids? Escape into Tove Jansson’s Moomin books

Tove Jansson's "Finn Family Moomintroll."Sort of Books (custom credit)/Sort of Books

You’ve got a child or children between the ages of, oh, 6 and 12, and they’re climbing the wall and driving you up it? Time to break out Tove Jansson’s Moomin books and read them out loud. Start with “Finn Family Moomintroll” (1948), the first to be translated from Finnish and published in America. (The very first is 1946’s “Comet in Moominland,” Jansson’s allegorical response to the atomic bomb, so ... maybe not right now.) The story’s simple enough for the littles and entertaining enough for the older kids (and you), and the characters — Hattifatteners! Hemulens! Snufkin! The Groke! — are enchantingly weird.

There are Moomin theme parks in Japan, Moomin shops in London, a Moomin cafe in Hong Kong; in the US, the books have never reached beyond a cult audience but have also never gone out of print. Once you’re hooked, you’re in for life, as I was in my childhood and my daughters were in theirs. What’s the attraction? Partly the whimsy and depth of Jannson’s line drawings, but mostly the twinned strains of humor and melancholy that evolved over the years. The early books — “Finn Family Moomintroll,” “The Exploits of Moominpappa” (1950), and “Moominsummer Madness” (1954) — are straight-up hilarious. The last two, “Moominpappa at Sea” (1965) and “Moominvalley in November” (1970), are a little too bleak, like Ingmar Bergman for kiddies. But the middle two — “Moominland Midwinter” (1957) and “Tales From Moominvalley” (1962) — are among the most perfect children’s books ever written, haunting and warm and wise. You’re welcome.