I’m letting my two older boys take over again to review a wonderful children’s book that was just reissued by New York Review Children’s Collection: The Glassblower’s Children (Glasbåsarns barn, 1964; tr. from the Swedish by Sheila La Farge, 1973; illustrated by Harald Gripe). I’m also thrilled to get them into the world of translated fiction!
But before I let them give their opinions, I want to take a second to attempt to describe this strange, sinister book and its large cast of characters.
The book opens with a rather happy family: Albert and Sofia are poor — the glassblowing trade, despite Albert’s beautiful work, is just not happening, mainly because Albert’s work is a bit impractical — but they are blessed with two curious, loving children named Klas and Klara. Albert and Sofia love their two children, but — and this will be familiar to any who have children — they sometimes remember how much less troubled life felt before.
One of the other inhabitants of Nöda, this tiny, poor village is Flutter Mildweather, a — well — a witch, though a kind one, and Wise Wit, her one-eyed raven.
Each year there is a great fair, the one hope the glassblower has to earn enough money from his trade so his wife and daughter don’t have to work the fields. This particular year is lucky: some rich nobleman comes by and purchases more glass than Albert has ever sold before, making them feel rich indeed.
Oh boy — I’m making this sound like some conventional story, so let’s cut to the chase. The nobleman is a very rich man who has everything, including a whole town with no houses, just streets and street lights. He loves nothing more than to hear the words “thank you,” and his wife has stopped saying them. She’s simply had enough. Whenever she wishes for something, that wish is fulfilled; consequently, her husband has taken away her ability to wish.
Thinking he knows just what he needs, he takes Klas and Klara — won’t they have a better life with him anyway — as a gift for his depressed wife.
And so this is really the beginning of this strange, claustrophobic tale of locked-up children, children who find comfort — while it lasts — only when they meet up with the only other children in the house: the Mirrorchildren.
At first they felt less forlorn and abandoned every time they met, as if they shared their fate with these children who said nothing, whom they could never reach and touch.
It’s a very strange, well told, wonderfully illustrated story with loads of weird elements (like an awful nanny) coming together — I think all three of us recommend it, but let’s see what Holland (5) and Carter (7) think (thanks to my wife who is able to get them to talk — kind of):
How did you like the book?
Holland: I liked it really good.
Uhm, okay. Why?
Carter: Cause I liked the book. I don’t know why. The whole thing.
Holland: The starting of the book where there was Raven Wise Wit’s eye. It blinked when it didn’t have any skin on it. Because it was its eye.
So what was it about?
Holland: It was about he lost his one eye.
Carter: The children. They were glassblower’s children. They blow glass. I remember! My favorite part of the story was the pictures.
Who were the kids?
Holland: One of them, Klass, breaks glass. Hmmm. I guess. Tweet. Tweet.
Were you ever scared?
Holland: Actually none.
What about Nana?
Holland: I feel terrible about her. She was a bad guy. She chained them up to her.
Carter: I felt like I wanted to battle.
Holland: If I fought her. I would throw a magnifying glass at her face.
Would you want her for your nanny?
Holland: No, because she chained them up. Because they got out of bed.
Carter: No, because she fights.
What was your favorite part?
Holland: I like the witch too.
Carter: I liked the children. Ummm. I like how they . . . I don’t know. I just like them.
How did you feel about the end?
Holland: Yeah, it was a great ending.
Carter: Um hmmm.
Holland: Can I see the glass blowing movie again?
Did you like the pictures?
Holland: Yeah, I loved them.
Carter: I already told you that was my favorite part of the book.