This 96-page picture book wraps many purposes between its covers. It’s an alphabet book, a museum exhibit catalog, an introduction to the Swedish language, and a picture book illustrated by a mother’s watercolors and her son’s pen-and-ink drawings. The luscious watercolors portray a museum object and the pen-and-ink drawings are layered over the watercolors, inviting the reader to imagine stories.
On the page for “P,” the Swedish phrase “pigga upp dig!” are translated into English as “perk up!” The watercolor portrays a three-legged chair in the ASI’s collection, carved by a woman who emigrated from Sweden to America before 1939. The pen-and-ink drawings on this two-page spread suggest many story possibilities, depicting figures of knights, a late-eighteenth-century couple, a troll in shorts, a dragon, a reindeer, a man in a dolphin costume, and a modern-day family having a beach picnic, all of them interacting with each other. The ideas for stories abound!
In the back matter, there are full-color photos and descriptions of the featured items from the ASI’s collection, graced by more pen-and-ink drawings. There’s a lot to learn and a lot to play with. Designed to be a treasure for all ages, the book succeeds in its mission.
It’s an enchanting, informative, and fun book, one that invites you to spend a few hours with your imagination. It’s a keeper!
A to Zåäö: Playing with History
at the American Swedish Institute
illustrated by Tara Sweeney
and Nate Christopherson
historical text by Inga Thiessen
University of Minnesota Press, 2019
ISBN 978 – 1517907884