According to Julie

Anne-Cath. Vestly

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The first thing that happened to me today was that I found out that Anne-Cath. Vestly is dead. She was a Norwegian author of children’s books. As far as my childhood was concerned, she was the only Norwegian author of children’s books.

I grew up making way for ducklings, scared and fascinated by robbers, and best friends with Anne Shirley. I generally preferred my fiction to take me to someplace long ago and far away – there was enough realism in the real world.

Norway, my home country, was long ago and far away. Except for summer (vacation, so not real life) and my parents’ memories (long ago, and they were grown-ups), it was far more distant than Prince Edward Island and the Boston Public Garden.

I can’t think of any other Norwegian author who meant more to me. Because, even though I didn’t think about this at the time, looking back, Vestly’s fiction was a window into what growing up “back home” was like.

And I’m glad that I pictured Norway the way she did. I’m glad that in Norway, families with eight children lived in one-room apartments in Oslo and still took care of their mormor* who was afraid of taking the tram through town. And that a little girl who played the violin had no father and a mother who worked as a janitor in their apartment building. And that in the same apartment building, another little girl’s father stayed at home studying and eventually defending his doctoral dissertation while her mother worked as a lawyer. Although she caused controversy, Vestly’s books never seemed overly political. They just told the truth about how children live and think.

The week before Vestly died, I talked about her with my family. Just this Saturday, some of her characters came up in a conversation with my best friend. Today, friends are grieving for “the end of their childhood” in Facebook statuses. I know we’ll all read her books to our children.


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* Mormor = mother’s mother, grandmother

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