Today we have a double-bill of delightful Dutch books by celebrated poet Toon Tellegen. The first, The Squirrel’s Birthday and Other Parties, is a collection of nine animal tales that all centre around parties. In the second volume, Letters to Anyone and Everyone, the stories revolve around letters, both giving and receiving.
In Tellegen’s world, happiness is measured in birthday parties, dancing, cake, and receiving a letter. I think this is an excellent outlook on life. The logic in these stories is the off-kilter, child-like kind, where whales dance with seaguls, elephants climb trees, snails build cottages or apartment buildings on top of their shells. They have the same spirit as A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books, but with a more European sensibility. Squirrel, with all his anxieties, is the Dutch equivalent of Rabbit. There is even a Bear, who much like Pooh, spends most of the book in search of cakes, preferably honey cakes, although this bear is described as distinguised rather than all stuffed with fluff.
Charm is a tricky thing, very hard to force and disastrous if applied too thickly. These stories avoid being too sweet or too philosophical. They are subtly and expertly crafted, and then paired with Jessica Ahlberg’s* sublime spot illustrations, culminating in the absolute gold standard of book creation. Everything works, the format, the design, the font, everything! I love both of these books from the story titles to the delicate spot illustrations right down to the spidery silver tree on the endpages. The Squirrel’s Party and Letters to Anyone and Everyone are books to snuggle up with and share, or perhaps read a story to yourself before bed and drift off to sleep pondering what it means to write a letter to a table or throw a party for an ant. I know I did. Sweet dreams ensued.
The Squirrel’s Birthday and Other Parties and Letters to Anyone and Everyone are available now from Boxer Books.
*Yes, Jessica Ahlberg is related to THE Ahlbergs, Janet and Allan- who are her parents. Now is that pedigree or what?!