Tag Archives: Anna Höglund

Poetry Box review: Ulf Stark’s Can you whistle, Johanna?

Poetry Box April poetry challenge

Can you whistle, Johanna? Ulf Stark, illustrated by Anna Höglund, Gecko Press, 2021

One of my favourite memories as a children’s poet was taking children to read their poems to old people in retirement villages. It was so very special. The young and the old loved it equally, especially talking to each other at the end. There were warm glows on everyone’s cheeks! Wide smiles. Sadly I just don’t seem to have time to do it at the moment but I do hope some other energetic poet gives it a go.

I think this shiny memory added to my delight in reading Ulf Stark’s Can you whistle, Johanna.

Ulf has a grandfather whom he loves dearly. They eat cake together on birthdays, go out to tea, and swap presents (five dollars and a cigar). The grandfather always eats pigs’ trotters. Ulf’s best friend Berra doesn’t have a grandfather and that feels like one terrible aching impossible-to-fill gap even though he doesn’t exactly know what grandfathers do.

Ulf comes up with a cunning plan and they go visit a retirement village where there are truckloads of old men. The boys definitely want one who eats pigs’ trotters and takes you out to tea and can teach you to whistle.

Ah, this is the sweetest most heartwarming story you can imagine. I laughed out loud and I felt good inside as I read. I especially love the bit about eating cherries from Mr Gustavsson’s extremely high tree in the dark. Oh and wanting to fish when there is no lake for miles but making something wonderful by making do with what is nearby (something rather special).

Sometimes you read a story and it sticks with you for days and you stop hanging out the clothes and writing the poem and weeding the garden and a little bit of the story lights up inside you. That’s how I feel with this glorious book.

I adore Anna Höglund‘s illustrations with their exquisite textures and colour palettes. I do wish children’s books included more details on the illustrations. It reminded me of the smell of crayons and pastels. Anna also illustrated the heavenly The Stone Giant.

Julia Marshall both translated and published the story. The sentences flow like clover honey and the book feels just right in your hand. Can you whistle, Johanna? was originally published in 1992 and made into a film. I can see why it is an international classic. I am so grateful to Gecko Press for continuing to publish books for children that are so very precious, and that always uplift stories with wisdom, verve and humour. When you read a Gecko Press book you get to feel the world.

I do hope loads of grandchildren read this to loads of grandparents – oh and truckoads of grandparents read it to truckloads of grandchildren.

Gecko Press page

Ulf Stark was a much-loved, award-winning Swedish writer. He has written around thirty books for children and young adults, and has been translated into more than twenty languages.

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.

Poetry Box review: Anna Höglund’s The Stone Giant





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.


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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.