Children’s books published in English are often bright and cheery. But perhaps you’re looking for something a little darker? Something that will make readers laugh? Or think? Or tremble? Something that pushes the boundaries in terms of what’s acceptable in books for younger readers? If that’s the case, then this list of books from Denmark by translator Sinéad Quirke Køngerskov is just what you need!
The Snory McGrorys
by Ditte Steensballe (author) and Jon Skræntskov (illustrator), Jensen & Dalgaard, 2022
A darling story for everyone – whether they snore or not!
About: The Snory McGrorys by Ditte Steensballe is the sweet and funny tale of two pigs who have a snoring problem. Mr and Mrs McGrory snore a lot. They make a terrible racket. It’s so bad that whoever can’t fall asleep first just doesn’t get to sleep at all. The whole house rumbles like thunder. Neither of them can get a proper night’s sleep as they keep waking each other up.
Absolutely exhausted and desperate, they try to find a solution: earplugs, nose clips, counting sheep – even sleeping in separate rooms – but nothing works.
In the end, they happen upon the answer – they should fall asleep together, so they can snore in time to each other.
The Snory McGrorys is adorably illustrated by Jon Skræntskov. Each page is full of charming and fun details that complement a story of unconditional love, acceptance, support, patience and helping each other.
by Inge Duelund Nielsen (author) and Gitte Gade (illustrator), Jensen & Dalgaard, 2020
Clara’s Book is a deeply touching book for young and old about friendship, empathy, imagination, finding courage and taking flight.
About: Clara’s Book by author Inge Duelund Nielsen and illustrator Gitte Gade is a poignant, thoughtful story for children about a girl no one sees, and her friendship with a tree, named Frode, and a bus driver named Patricia.
Clara is practically invisible. On the school bus, in class, at break time. Nobody cares about Clara. Only the bus driver, Patricia, sees her and cares about her, but the more she tries to help, the worse things become.
Clara moves away, and when she does, she leaves behind her book for Patricia to finish.
At school, Clara is ignored and excluded from games. She witnesses the fun and interaction the other children have snatching Sajsa’s “ugly” hat, and with innocent child-logic, she asks Patricia to knit a really ugly hat for her, secretly hoping it will gain her acceptance in their games, but to no avail.
A beautifully illustrated tale of a quiet girl, with a vivid imagination, who goes to a bullying-free school, but is disregarded by the other children, who only first notice Clara the day she doesn’t come to school, because that is the day everything changes. Frode is gone. Where the tree once stood is a gaping hole. Even the colours – and the air – are different.
Gitte Gade’s sublime artwork lovingly captures and complements Clara’s story, imagination and close relationship to nature. Images and words work poetically and empathically, as one, to convey this tender tale of bullying and loneliness.
The Chute in the Sky
by Dorte Futtrup (author) and Lilian Brøgger (illustrator), Høst & Søn, Rosinante, 2011
The Chute in the Sky is a powerful and moving illustrated narrative of a mother’s loss. Rarely does the collaboration between an author and illustrator leave such a strong impression.
About: The Chute in the Sky is a beautiful and very touching retelling of a Greenlandic legend about a woman who loses her only two sons. Through a chute in the sky, she searches for them in the realm of the dead, so she can bring them back to life. There, she meets her grandmother who helps her find her sons. She is overjoyed to be reunited with them, but is shocked to see their legs are frozen in ice. They explain that the ice is her frozen tears from her grief. They make her realise that their time has come, but hers has not yet, and she acknowledges that she and her sons now belong in two different worlds. She understands that the way to make her sons happy is to return to her life. On her way back down through the chute, she meets a young man on his way to an untimely death. She brings him back to life and her home, and they live out their days together.
The Chute in the Sky deals delicately with the heartbreak that happens in life in its eloquently poetic, yet simple, words and vividly moving images of desperation and joy, and of life and death. It is an ancient mystical myth that transcends the generations captured in a modern graphic novella with striking and mesmerising illustrations.
by Dennis Gade Kofod (author) and Kristian Eskild Jensen (illustrator), Høst & Søn, Rosinante, 2021
In Possessed the story jumps out at you from the pages, so perhaps don’t read it just before bed! And where did the cat go?
About: From a rip in the opening pages of Possessed emerges the rotten and slimy skeleton of a witch exclaiming, ‘Finally, I am free!’ It only gets creepier and more dangerous from there. Possessed is a picture book about possessive magic (literally!). Images and text combine as two evil, slimy, frightening and foul sides of a perfect whole.
We meet a gruesome witch, who has been imprisoned in a jail for the evillest of characters, as she eats children by possessing whoever reads aloud to them – so she can consume them! The book is actually a spell to free her from the prison of the pages. As each page is turned, she regains more of herself, her strength, her power, her cat and her cauldron until finally, she is free. Reader beware!
Possessed is a terrifying tale of possession and cannibalism that comes alive word-by-word as it is read aloud before the eyes of the captivated listener.
Written by Dennis Gade Kofod, author and expert in all things horror, magic, mythological and language, Possessed is frighteningly brought to life by illustrator Kristian Eskild Jensen, who was awarded the Danish Ministry of Culture’s Illustrator Prize for the children’s book Og de onde lo – Amoralske Fabler [And the wicked laughed – Amoral Fables] in 2018.
Funding is available from the Danish Arts Foundation for the production of Danish literature for children and young adults, for translations from Danish (including picture books), literary events and festivals and other literary projects for children and young adults. Agent Lars Sidenius and translator Sinéad Quirke Køngerskov would be happy to help with such an application (deadline is 1 September 2022). More details here.
Sinéad Quirke Køngerskov is an award-winning Danish to English translator. In 2022, her translation of Coffee, Rabbit, Snowdrop, Lost by Betina Birkjær & Anna Margrethe Kjærgaard (Enchanted Lion) received a Batchelder Honor Award and was also listed as a USBBY Outstanding International Book. Read more about her here.