New Astrid Lindgren book illustrated by Kitty Crowther

Photo: Stefan Tell

Kitty Crowther, illustrator and recipient of the 2010 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, is in the limelight this week with a new book, written by no other than Astrid Lindgren! Tomten är vaken (Rabén&Sjögren) was written by Astrid Lindgren during the 1960s, and has never been published in Sweden before. Kitty Crowther describes the book about the Swedish Tomte (garden gnome – not Santa Claus!) as a very warm, comforting, almost healing story.

Kitty, how come you started this project?

Birgitta Westin, from Rabén&Sjögren, had the idea of inviting me to illustrate this story. It seems that the manuscript was languishing in a cupboard, until the German publisher died, and the text reverted to the Lindgren family. They then asked Rabéns if the story could be republished. When I had the proposal, I was thrilled, and apparently the Lindgren family was happy that I would be the illustrator. It´s almost like a nice roundabout, my being awarded the Astrid Lindgren prize, and then illustrating one of her stories.

Tell us about the story!

It´s a very warm, comforting, almost healing story. I just love the Tomte, he is such a fantastic character. Nothing is really said about him but you get to know him from the way the story develops. Astrid is such a powerful story teller. You understand, without realizing that you understand. The story is about a Tomte watching over a farm and all its living creatures. In the middle of the cold winter he goes and checks that all are fine. Winter is there, and very chilly, and the Tomte has his magic language giving hope and warmth, that goes straight to your heart. He is, however, a lonely Tomte. He is so shy, so ancient, part of the beliefs of the old world. So I am very happy to go back to that form of energy. Life is going too fast, these days!

What was it like to illustrate the book, can you describe your work process?

At first I found it very difficult to find the right character, or to invite the Tomte to my pages. This took ages, till, after a long while, I found him, and could not stop smiling when he was under my pencil. The other difficulty is that this is a very traditional, classic  story. I have to respect its energy. But luckily  I just love snow. And I love drawing animals. I wanted them to be very real. I have been checking the works of others, notably Rien Poortvliet`s farm pictures. And only when I had found the style I wanted, I checked out Victor Rydberg on the internet. The northern lights was the perfect idea.

I just love this greenish glow in the night sky, but it is quite difficult to do a story set entirely at night.
I actually had a Viktor Rydberg Christmas book as a child. So I knew what his Tomte looked like, although I was confused about his size. For, in Nils Anderson he is very small, flying on the back of a goose.

When we interviewed you for our 10 year anniversary, you said that “I am connected to Astrid. She is an incredible person. I can almost feel her smile.” What were your feelings working with this project?

Just fantastic! I first read the story in a library a few days ago. I could sense Astrid smiling, and it was amazing and wonderful to win the ALMA prize, but it is even more amazing to have her name and mine side by side. People tell me that it´s the perfect story for me to illustrate.

Do you believe in Santa Claus?

Of course! Who doesn`t (but not the coca cola one!) I believe in many things that I don`t see. When you look at the character of Santa Claus, and do some research, it´s very, very interesting. And a very very old ritual, about darkness and light. Winter to Spring, when it starts to get difficult to find warmth and food.

I will shortly be attending the Montreuil book fair in Paris, one of some eigth illustrators. The theme isto be “adventure”, and it has been a great adventure, illustrating Astrid´s book. When talking to my friend, the Director of the fair, Sylvie Vassallo, she pointed out that Astrid´s book is the perfect Christmas book, and even though the Francophone world doesn`t know about Tomten. Indeed it is a difficult word to translate. Portvliet says “Gnome”, which is impossible in French. So the solution we found is Lutin, close to the fairy world. For the book will also be published in French, by Pastel, very shortly.

The story is not about Santa Claus, because the Tomte is a very “bienveillant” person. He offers no presents, but himself, his time, and magic language, giving hope and comfort. He is such a loving creature. The book is about nature, and all its myths and legends.

Interview with Kitty Crowther for the 10th anniversary of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, here.

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