Tove Jansson (1914-2001) was a Swedish-speaking Finnish writer, painter, illustrator, and comic-strip artist who is best known and beloved worldwide for having created the Moomin (Mumintroll in Swedish) books. They started off as comic strips and then developed into novels, nine of them. As a girl I read only three, Finn Family Moomintroll (in the Puffin edition above), Comet in Moominland, and Moominsummer Madness, but they were enough to induct me into Moominland for life.
Moomin Valley is a whole world, with a loving, closeknit family at its center, but also a long list of other characters, creatures who are not biologically related but are nonetheless welcomed into the family. Besides the home-loving Moomins—our quiet hero Moomintroll, Moominmamma, Moominpappa, the vain and rather empty-headed Snork Maiden—his kind-of sort-of girlfriend (not)—and her brother the Snork—there is the troubled Mymble’s daughter and her devilish sister Little My, the officious but doleful Hemulen, the electric-eel-like Hattifatteners, Sniff, Emma the eccentric and misanthropic rat and the terrifying but terribly lonely Groke. Whomper, the Muskrat, Misabel (as miserable as her name), the Fillyjonk, and Thingummy and Bob also make appearances at various times.
And then there is Snufkin: Snufkin the wanderer, Moomintroll’s best friend of all time. Snufkin is almost always away and Moomintroll misses him terribly, but he knows that his friend would not be happy if he were not able to leave the Valley whenever the road called to him.
Writers like Tove Jansson who create worlds always embed values in them, and the values young readers imbibe with the Moomin books are the very best, delivered with a light touch, but deeply humane. Just to list two that stay with me: the Moomins never take one another for granted, thanking Moominmamma sincerely after every meal. And they are never exclusive: they take in any creature who comes to their door, whether or not that creature is trustworthy or even likeable.
If you want to learn more about the creator of the Moomins, visit Tove Jansson : virtual museum and life story, an imaginatively conceived and designed website not to be missed, and Brian Sibley’s illustrated account of his correspondence with her. It is a delight to scroll though Oliver Weiss’s design blog, where he has scanned the covers of his large collection of Moomin editions in several languages. Above all, if you haven’t encountered them already, find a copy of Finn Family Moomintroll and read it aloud to your children or grandchildren. Better still, read it yourself, no matter how old you are.