The Summer Book

August 7, 2013

A friend reminded me recently of The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson, a Finnish writer.

Tove (pronounced Tovah) Jansson wrote many books for children, most of them about this gang (and friends), known as the Moomins:

moomins2moomins3moomins4

But The Summer Book is for adults. I’ve had it for years on my bookshelf but had never read it until now.

It’s about a grandmother and her granddaughter together on an island off Finland (the girl’s father shows up occasionally, too). It’s about the meeting place of old age and childhood, the relationship between two people who understand one another and understand the place where they live, and it’s simple and true and holds shadow and light in perfect balance. I love it.

Here is the original pair, Tove Jansson’s mother with granddaughter, Sophia:

Grandmother and Sophia

And here’s Tove herself. Wouldn’t you just follow her anywhere? I plan to. She wrote loads of books I’d never heard of until now and I’m going to find them, including the Moomin stories.

tove jannson

This is a documentary about her life as artist, writer, cartoonist, friend, lover, daughter, etc.

I could rave on about The Summer Book, but you get the idea. If you need to consult a higher authority before you visit the library or lay your money down, please read Ali Smith’s review in The Guardian, which appeared when The Summer Book was reissued in 2003.

Happy reading, whatever summer book you’re holding dear.

P.S. A little bird just told me the Moomin books are available here, if you want to avoid amazon. You can also get them at indiebound (independent bookstores). And you can get all the Moomins plus The Summer Book at alibris.com. (That’s a direct link to Tove Jansson’s pages on alibris.)

9 Responses to “The Summer Book”


  1. I love the moomintroll books…i did not know she wrote more…thanks!

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    • I don’t know anyone else who has read those books, Kerry. I’m sorry to say I missed them completely. The Summer Book is quite different – one of ten books she wrote for adults. Not a moomin in sight.

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  2. Ruth Gundle Says:

    Andrea, it was a nudge from Ali Smith that got me reading it–although a houseguest from England had sent us a copy in May because Kim Stafford had written a wonderful piece about it that he read to us all one evening. I’d glanced at it on the dining room table thinking I’d read it one day when I came across a mention of it in something of Ali Smith’s, possibly Artful, along a musing on her way of being a lesbian, so I reached across the table and picked it up……and was enchanted. I recommend to any potential readers that you skip the introduction, if the edition you end up with has it. It gives away too much of what unfolds so beautifully.

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    • Thank you, Ruth. It’s so wonderful, really a classic. I remember that you mentioned Kim had something to do with you reading it, but I didn’t know Ali Smith was part of the story. I read some of her stories earlier this summer. I hope you find time to watch the documentary about TJ. You’ll appreciate its beauty, candor, and thoroughness, I think.

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  3. I have never heard of these books and wonder if they were around when I was a child or early reader in the sixties and seventies? They look wonderful, and while I don’t have time to watch the whole doc right now, I’ve watched twenty minutes of it and will definitely save for later! I’m tempted to go to Amazon and order the whole slew of them!

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    • Oh good! I was thinking that perhaps the Moomin books weren’t translated into English when we were all growing up, but Kerry’s comment reveals that’s not the case. So glad you’re going to follow up.

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  4. Chris Bourdette Says:

    Andrea, thank you for this introduction to Tove Jansson and her beautiful works. I sat down and watched the whole video (something I NEVER do with these links!) and was thoroughly captivated by Tove and her world. I can’t wait to read The Summer Book and to meet the Moomins.

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  5. alan cahn Says:

    Andrea- I watched the video yesterday, Tove led a fascinating life… her delight in life, nature and the arts reminded me of another person I know who lives near the water’s edge.

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