Over Christmas, I discovered Elsa Beskow, a Swedish children’s author. I was looking through my sister Kirsty’s library when I came across The Children of the Forest and Christopher’s Garden. They were such delightful reads! Ever since, I have been devouring her books and enjoying artist dates inspired by her. In this post, I share a little bit about Elsa and her beautiful work.
Elsa Beskow is a dearly loved Swedish author. Originally published in Swedish, her books have been reprinted for over a century and in different languages. Elsa is best known for her books, such as Aunt Green, Aunt Brown and Aunt Lavender. In the literary world, her kindred spirits are Beatrix Potter, Cicley Mary Barker and May Gibbs. All of these women were nature lovers and drew much inspiration from their relationships with children. Elsa had six children of her own, and was a passionate advocate for holistic education and freedom of speech. You can learn more about her life on her publisher’s website.
Elsa passed away in 1953, but left an important legacy. Like many parts of the world, Sweden has changed immensely since the turn of the last century. Elsa beautifully immortalised the countryside in her words and illustrations. When I open her books, my imagination instantly takes me to this historic landscape and I experience it as an enchanting place, full of mystery, wonder and magic.
Magical happenings in everyday life
Elsa’s stories remind us all that Nature is sentient and we are interdependent. Without Nature, we can’t survive. Elsa’s main characters are often young children, who are learning the ways of the land; for example, they are learning how to care for farm animals, plants and how items, such as clothing, are made. The stories tend to begin in a mundane setting. But then, her characters experience a magical happening; they encounter a nature spirit, such as a fairy or elf.
In a recent lecture at Vancouver Island University, Professor Terri Doughty (2020) suggested that a unique characteristic of Elsa’s work is the way she portrayed the relationship between people and plants. Elsa’s plant folk are intelligent and live in hierarchical worlds, ruled by kings and queens. The folk also play an active role in our world. They help us, trick us and create change. Reading Elsa has helped me reflect on my own relationship with plants.
Elsa as an artistic mentor
From an artistic perspective, Elsa has inspired me to take more artist dates outdoors and play with more decorative and flowing motifs and designs. Like Beatrix and May, her pen work is very fine. She is certainly encouraging me to continue drawing in ink with a pen nib, which is an art technique I was introduced to by Sveta Dorosheva. Elsa drew much inspiration from Art Nouveau style. Art Nouveau was a style that developed towards the end of the 19th century. Artists draw inspiration from the living world, such as animals, flowers and fruit, and turned elements into elaborate and flowing motifs. Elsa often used floral borders, which is a common element of the style. So, if you love the Victorian literature and Art Nouveau, Elsa’s books are a must-read!
Lisa’s Flower Festival
My favourite book by Elsa is ‘The Flower Festival.’ I find relate to the main character, Lisa. She takes me back to my childhood, where I was exploring the world of the fairies through play and art. But more importantly, this book carries an inspiring message; it argues that everyone has a story and should be seen and heard.
Do you have a favourite book by Elsa? I’d love you to share with me.
Floris books is the publisher of Elsa’s books. Her books, including a book set, are currently available from the Book Depository and Amazon.
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