Thursday, March 11, 2010

My favorite new children's book series

9. Tatun ja Patun oudot aakkoset (Tatu and Patu's Bizarre Alphabet) by  Aino Havukainen and Sami Toivonen

Havukainen and Toivonen are a married couple, who both have a background in illustration: Aino primarily has worked with children's books, while Sami used to illustrate, for a while, one of my favorite comics ever, Kramppeja ja nyrjähdyksiä (Cramps and Strains - also available in English!). Together they began to work on a series about two weird boys, Tatu and Patu. These are more picture books than anything else, but the ones I have read have made me laugh out loud, and because each page is usually filled with a large picture with an incredible amount of detail, you never get tired of finding random references to Finnish (or pop culture) items. I have used their book Tatun ja Patun Suomi (also available in English as This is Finland) in teaching Finnish: the illustrations are great examples of typical (and even stereotypical) Finnish life, and topics from geography to Santa Claus are covered in a humorous manner. The premise is that Tatu and Patu have no idea what a Finn is, so based on the evidence they have found (the hilarious first page of the book) they firstly construct a typical Finn who is surrounded by a variety of typical Finnish knick-knacks and then embark on a mission to find out what is going on in Finland. This here is a sample (click to embiggen):

So when I heard that they have a book coming out about the alphabet, I thought: perfect! Even better for teaching Finnish as a second/foreign language! I first saw the book at my friend's place, and she wanted to show a sample of it. We ended up reading almost the entire book through while giggling, because it just is so silly. Basically, each page (or, with a more commonly used letter, a spread) is a picture not unlike "Where's Wally?" - you just have to find items beginning with the letter stated on the page. Not only that, but sentences are given, such as "Can you find the dog who is looking dour because he despises his Duck hoodie?" And sure enough, there is a really grumpy looking dog in the picture who is wearing a pink hoodie, covered in pictures of Donald Duck.

On the page with "foreign" letters C and D, you can spot, among others, Charlie Chaplin, Jacques Cousteau (be still my heart!!), Darth Vader and cheerleaders in a picture that is taking place at a Curling Club's disco... It's genius. I want to be a fly on the wall when Havukainen and Toivonen come up with these things!

The series kind of reminds me of The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket in the sense that it does not patronize children, or make things simpler just because children are the main audience. Instead, the series fearlessly uses words and turns of phrases that make adults like me chuckle, while still remaining totally child-friendly in content.

I think I need to collect the rest of these books. They are super entertaining, and people of all ages seem to love them - there is always something new to find in the pictures or in the stories. One such example is from the Finland book, where Tatu thinks that Santas are elected like presidents. The story itself is pretty funny, and at the same time Patu tries to tell the reader who exactly is elected by votes in Finland and what the president (or Santa...) can do. Adults may find it hilarious that Tatu is dressed up in a Santa outfit, handing out pens, stickers and other swag with slogans printed onto them, especially as the slogans are references to old Christmas songs (that little kids might not even know).

It's a children's book, sure, but it's just so much fun.

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