Do you remember that feeling when you got Harry Potter in your hands and the world that you had thought to be a myth was suddenly described with such sincerity and detail that it didn’t only become believable but almost real. Well, this is more or less the case with Wil Huygen’s book Gnomes.
You are not supposed to judge a book by its cover but let’s admit, this is practically impossible in the case of Gnomes. Anyway, you are not making much of a mistake if you do so, because the inside is full of just as beautiful illustrations as the cover.
To put it very shortly: gnomes are a species mainly living in Scandinavia and the mountain areas of Europe. Their existence is often denied by humans as they like to hide and are mainly active during night time. However, they would be greatly missed from nature if gone missing, especially by forest animals, whom gnomes help a lot if they get lost, injured or trapped. This is the species Wil Huygen describes in detail in his book.
Gnomes is a book balancing on the verge of biology and fairy story, and I haven’t yet managed to figure out whether the audience is meant to be kids or adults. While we learn about everything in the world of gnomes from their physique through their illnesses and houses to their society system, we meet phrases like “high prostaglandin level” and learn the exact chemical ingredients of ceramics (gnomes work with ceramics too). Not exactly child-friendly, unless your kid is highly interested in science.
At the same time the every-day life of gnome families and the charming stories in the second half of the book will cause happy moments to the smaller kids too – not to mention Rien Poortviet’s wonderful illustrations. These images are the kind which will keep all children (and adults) occupied for hours because there are so many details hidden in them that it totally sucks you in.
The Dutch writer-illustrator duo published Gnomes in 1976, which became the first part of a series of gnome-books. An animated series was also aired on TV based on the books, which is rather cute but it definitely doesn’t have the same addictive visual experience as the books. I must add as well, that even though gnomes are supposed to originate from Scandinavia, they speak English with a very heavy American accent in the films, which makes it rather irritating for my ears.
Gnomes has a very close-to-nature approach, which always fills city-people like me with some nostalgia, and which is often close to children too. At the same time I must mention something that I hadn’t noticed at the first read but which has bothered me from the second time I read this book. Namely, that gnomes live in a deeply patriarchal community and that female gnomes are not completely equal to male ones. But then, this is just me finding fault in everything (though I find it kind of important what we teach our children).
Gnomes is the kind of book, which will give you a perfect read for cold winter night if you want to slow down after a hectic day. Take a mug of herbal tea, light a candle and learn from the little folk, who don’t know mental illnesses like depression, and – accordingly – may live up to 300 years of age. :D
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