Great Danes and giant books

6th December 2002 at 00:00
A World of Wondersa touring exhibition of Danish children's literature, is now at Helensburgh Library, Argyll until January 3

The door to the library seemed to be a secret gateway to a strange fantasy world. Along the walls were the familiar book shelves and little chairs, but the middle of the room was dominated by colourful picture and story panels interspersed by giant, sometimes surreal, characters and a book as big as a child.

This is A World of Wonders, a touring celebration of Danish children's literature organised by the Danish Cultural Institute in Edinburgh, which came to the children's room at Partick Library in Glasgow and has now moved on to Helensburgh in Argyll.

Glasgow-based illustrator Frank Rodgers, best known for The Witch's Dog and the Mr Croc books, said: "It's fascinating to see the range of styles, right across the board from whacky naive to very realistic. Some of the stories are really off-the-wall.

"The Danes have a different attitude to children's books. They look around corners more than us."

Danish illustrators apply a range of tricks to capture their young audiences. Lilian Brogger seems to dispense with preliminary sketches and draws directly on to paper. She develops her quill pen drawings to painterly effects in books such as The Pig's House, in which a young prince befriends a pig.

Hanne Bartholin creates sparkly child-like drawings that tell a clear story on their own.

Mr Rodgers was struck by a very large book. "There were some really surreal images in there," he said. Bente Olesen Nystrom is the artist responsible for some of the illustrations, taken from his book The Settlers, which depict what resemble giant jellyfish and spaceships and represent settlers in various periods of time and places.

Life-size cut-out characters from some of the books mark a variety of listening posts and video presentations in the exhibition where you can hear and see translated extracts and action clips from the stories.

Circeline is one such character. Created by artist Hanne Hastrup, this female Dennis the Menace-like figure started life in a series of animated films before the drawings were published as a favourite Danish picture book. Another is Mats Leten's small boy Kaj, who has been set free from his book with his dog.

Humour becomes armoury in Cato Thau-Jensesn's tale The Boy Who Stayed in Bed While his Father and the Hairdresser Watched. The boy's mother is dead and he cannot accept his father's new relationship. However, the story culminates in a simple almost flippant philosophy that it is always handy to have a hairdresser around the place.

Some teenage fiction draws on Norse mythology and folklore to create contemporary stories. Lene Kaaberbol's trilogy about a shamer, a figure who can look inside your soul and find out what you wish to forget, is set in the Middle Ages. The latest, The Shamer's Daughter (Hodder and Stoughton), deals with how it feels to be an outsider.

The Danish Literature Centre's collage of graphics and sounds will inspire creative writing skills,

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