Anna Höglund The Stone Giant Gecko Press 2020
What a delightful story housed in an exquisitely illustrated, lovingly produced object: The Stone Giant is a must-have book. The cover reflects what it is like inside – the illustrations are often grey or pitch-black, with a young girl standing out in a red dress. The story is based on the much loved Swedish fairy tale by Elsa Beskow.
A young girl lives on an island with her father who is a knight. One day he sets off in a boat to challenge a mean giant who is turning everyone to stone by looking at them. I think the girl must be accustomed to being alone on the island, because I am sure this is not the first time her father has headed off without her to rescue people.
I love the way she gets straight down to fixing and mending everything that needs fixing and mending. She is resourceful and independent, but she is also worried because her father does not come home. Will a child succeed where an adult has failed?
I love the way stories give children strength, an ability to solve things.
The writing is simple – sweetly flowing – and it carries us like a little reading stream. You want to stay in the flow until the very end. The illustrations help build the mood – slightly scary, slightly anxious. The girl has a genius flash and makes a daring decision. She will rescue her father!
You know fairy tales are going to have happy endings – but you never know how they will get there and that doesn’t mean you don’t feel on edge as you read (and just the right amount here because I scare easily).
The girl’s journey to the stone giant is the heart of the book – she is on on her own but as with most fairy tales she will get unexpected help on the way. I love the illustration of her swimming in the night-black sea with a little blue bird on her head keeping an eye out.
Fairy tales – like all stories – can carry secret (and not so secret) messages, like little training camps for children on how to be good humans as opposed to nasty ones. This story underlines how determination and imagination are important qualities to overcome problems.
I also got musing on how stories for children have changed over the centuries. Publishers’ choices have changed as ideas have changed. We want stories that feature girl heroes as much as they feature boy heroes or ‘they’ heroes. We do not want racism. It is utterly important that our stories reflect the strength and wisdom of global cultures. That we hear from many writing voices, in many styles and genres.
This is a sublime story of courage and ingenuity. Wit counters bad behaviour. Buy the book, enter the reading stream, and you will be carried along the exquisite currents until the breathtaking end. The illustrations are gorgeous. So beautifully crafted – a mix of printing and watercolour. Full of mood and life and mystery. Glorious!
Gecko Press page
Anna Höglund is a Swedish illustrator and author. Her work has been recognized with Swedish and international awards. She has worked with many well-known authors including Barbro Lindgren and Ulf Stark.