Sweden has always held a high place in my mind – sparkly clean streets, universal health care, those delicious IKEA meatballs, and some of the strangest entertainment for children. If you haven’t heard of Barnkanalen, the Swedish TV show for kids, I highly encourage you to check it out. The program has been known to raise an eyebrow or two with its blunt depiction of puberty and development. My personal favorite is an education video on puberty featuring oodles of rosy cheeked and eyelash-batting cartoon genitals. And much like their educational TV, Sweden’s educational books are wonderfully weird and honest. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorites below.
How a Baby is Made by Per Peter Holm Knudson
It appears it’s customary of every culture to introduce children to reproduction through a picture book. Raised on What’s Happening to Me and the likes, I remember being terrified with each page turn and the decent deeper into reproductive-hormone-ick. But nothing is as terrifying as this 1970’s Swedish book for kids. Part blunt depiction, part scare tactic into abstinence (we presume), this book takes an extremely close look at what goes into making a baby from fertilization to birth. The illustrations hinge on the NSFW so we won’t show them here, but feel free to check them out over here.
Bajsfesten by Alex Schulman
Image courtesy of Tumblr
After you read How A Baby is Made, you can now begin to prepare for parenthood with Bajsfesten, which translates as ‘poop party’ more or less. The kid’s book follows a not so unlikely series of events that many a parent and unsuspecting babysitter have probably encountered. The father in the book asks the child if he needs to go the the bathroom. The child says he’s saving it, his motive for it veiled in secrecy. The father is persistent and continues to ask but the child responds the same – he’s saving it. At the end of the book the child gives a maddening release of his bowels and dad is left to clean it up.
Adjö, herr Muffin (Goodbye Mr. Muffin) by Ulf Nilsson
Image courtesy of Blog Spot
Second to puberty, death is probably the most difficult subject a parent has to address with a child. There’s infinite ways to introduce death, whether through a religious tone or a ‘better place’ kind of voice, but very few authors attempt to articulate dying though the morbid matter-of-fact lens that Adjö, herr Muffin uses. The plot begins by focusing on an aging guinea pig, Mr. Muffin. Now old and gray, Mr. Muffin reflects on his younger years when he had more food, energy, and general pleasure in life. Mr. Muffin decides to make a list of the things he’s had in his life – 1 wife, 728 cucumbers and so on, and as he nears the end of his list, he gets a stomach ache and dies alone. Mr. Muffin’s reflections are mirrored by those of his owner, a small boy, who thinks about what it means to die.
There’s a heart breaking tone of sadness and isolation in the read, but all in all it relays a realistic portrayal of death and it’s many questions. Furthermore, it situates a philosophical thought – that of Plato’s ‘the good life’ – in Mr. Muffin’s reflections on a valuable life.
Else-Marie Och Småpapporna (Else-Marie and Her Seven Little Daddies) by Pija Lindenbaum
Image courtesy of Child Lit Aesthetics
Originally banned in the U.S. for illustrations featuring semi-nudity, Else-Marie Och Småpapporna has a rather simple plot that is pretty relatable. Else-Marie has a strange parentage and she’s self-conscious about friends at school seeing her seven father’s. There’s some weird imagery of Else-Marie and all her dads riding the bus, jumping on the bed and, like the image above, bathing together (likely the image that spawned the ban) but the theme of unconventional family dynamics places it in the thick of many current kids books. Of of these books, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher is a great example that focuses on a family with two dads and their two sons.
Despite the foggy appropriateness of its imagery, Else-Marie Och Småpapporna is a wonderful introduction to diverse families and the worries some kids of these families may feel.
Bajsboken by Pernilla Stalfelt
Another cultural custom: books about poop. It seems like a topic that wouldn’t need such deep understanding but it is truly one of critical importance cross-culturally. This book, unlike your standard Everybody Poops book, goes into great depth about not only the vast array of species that poops, but the digestive process from start to finish. Rather than simply teaching your kids that their own bathroom habits are very natural, this book reveals a more complicated internal process and the larger food chain (see image above) that the process plays into.
Bedtime Stories for Awful Children by Jonas Tarestad
Image courtesy of Simogo
Every country has their fairy tales and cautionary stories, Sweden’s just happen to be much scarier. Bedtime Stories for Awful Children lives up to its title. These stories will terrorize children and effectively strip them of pleasant dreams for nights to come with dark fables about sexual assault, a horse that causes children to ooze water until they collapse, and demon babies that live in the ground. If you love your children read them something else.
The Dragon with the Red Eyes by Astrid Lindgren
Just your average not stoned dragon (image courtesy of Etsy)
This children’s book is about a family that finds a dragon in their barn, nestled between the pigs. The dragon is mischievous and lovable, and normal as far as dragons go aside from his bloodshot red eyes. Although not blatantly delivered in the story line, we suspect there’s a reason why his eyes are so red and his gaze so constantly in a daydream. Although the kids may not pick up on the latent humor, it’s one of those great books that parents can enjoy just as much as kids for wholly different reasons.
Featured image courtesy of Art-Sheep.