Sculptor's Daughter: A Childhood Memoir by Tove Jansson

Books I Want is apparently becoming a regular feature here. This week, I'm wanting Tove Jansson's first book for adults, which is actually a collection of stories called Sculptor's Daughter: A Childhood Memoir. It's been re-released by Sort Of Books in a deluxe edition that includes rare images from the Jansson family archives ("a perfect Christmas gift," says the publisher), such as the one of eight-year-old Tove on the cover. I've not read any of Jansson's adult fiction, but Sculptor's Daughter seems like a good place to start, despite the title. Why do so many books about women identify them as someone else's--usually a man's--daughter or wife? In this case, the sculptor is Jansson's father, Viktor. For the record, her mother, Signe Hammarsten-Jannson, was an illustrator and graphic designer. Also probably just as influential on Tove.

One of the stories in this collection, "The Iceberg," is available to read online (The Independent, November 3, 2013), and it is lovely, keenly observed (lived, really) and true to a child's experiences and emotions. The whole collection, in paperback and with a more anonymous cover photograph of a snowy landscape, will be published in the US by William Morrow in January 2014. If you can wait that long.


I don't think if I can wait til Christmas to read Hild by Nicola Griffith (FSG, 2013), a novel set in seventh-century Britain about the girl who becomes Saint Hilda of Whitby. Griffith wrote about Hild and genre (Fantasy or history?, 11/12/2013) for, and Amal El-Mohtar reviewed the book for NPR in the context of conversations about women in historical fiction--and historical fantasy (Hild Destroys Myths of Medieval Womanhood, 11/14/2013). The early medieval world, historical fantasy, women (and children--Hild is just three at the beginning of the  novel), warriors and saints: I have a deep and abiding interest in them all. And lo, today is the feast day of Saint Hilda!

[That gorgeous cover is by Italian twins Anna and Elena Balbusso.]

Fairies and changelings

I'm currently reading (among other things) Some Kind of Fairy Tale, a grownup fantasy by British author Graham Joyce (Doubleday, 2012). It's not a changeling story, at least not so far, but a kidnapped-by-the-fairies one, in which teenaged Tara Martin disappears into a dense forest known as the Outwoods, only to return twenty years--or is it six months?--later.

Forests are my favorite magical places (castles or old houses are a close second), and Tara's description of the forest on the day she disappeared is especially evocative:

After a while I found a rock covered in brilliant green moss and orange lichen. I sat among the bluebells and put my head back on the mossy pillow of the rock.

The bluebells made such a pool that the earth had become like water, and all the trees and bushes seemed to have grown out of the water. And the sky above seemed to have fallen down on to the earth floor, and I didn't know if the sky was earth or the earth was water. [42]

Then a man on a pretty white horse appears, and you know that boundaries are going to be crossed. As it turns out (I'm on page 132), they are crossed in ways I'm not so interested in reading about. Instead I'm rereading my favorite Zilpha Keatley Snyder book, The Changeling (Atheneum, 1970): "I am a princess from the Land of the Green Sky," Ivy said. "I have discovered the Doorway to Space."

The Changeling isn't a fantasy book, although Snyder did eventually write the Green-Sky Trilogy (beginning with Below the Root; Atheneum, 1978) based on the Tree People game that Martha and Ivy play in Bent Oaks Grove. But Ivy herself is such a magical character, I almost believed that she was a changeling. And that I was, too.

[Why, why is The Changeling out-of-print? I'm adding it to my list of books to reprint when I start my own small press.]