Nils – written and illustrated by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire

  Nils – written and illustrated by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire, University of Minnesota Press, 9781517910143, originally published in 1948, this edition, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Picture book

What did you like about the book?  The beautiful and characteristic d’Aulaire illustrations are the highlight of this nostalgic re-issue. Utilizing old-fashioned stone lithography, the pages alternate between scribbly soft gray and vibrantly-hued pictures to tell the story of Nils, a little Minnesotan who dreams of being a cowboy. When his Norwegian grandmother sends him a beautiful pair of knitted wool stockings, patterned with roses and stars, he’s delighted, until his playmates start to ridicule them. But the story swings toward a celebration of immigrants, with Nils learning the value of his warm stockings once he heads out to play in the snow. As with all other d’Aulaire works, the drawings are absorbing and achingly beautiful, fanciful but still representational. The endpapers are striking — a vivid cornucopia on a field of black, with Miles and his pony leaping through the air as he lassos a leaping hare. Unlike the famous mythologies, the language and dialogue in this realistic third-person story is stilted.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I’m glad the book opened with the following disclaimer: “some of the language and attitudes expressed may not be appropriate today.” There are references to roping Indians and although the authors’ note the displacement of idigenous people — “the white men came and chased the Indians away” — there’s no acknowledgement of which nations once lived in Miles’ state. Boys call Miles a “sissy” and taunt him with “He’s a baby, he’s a girl” once they catch  a glimpse of his stockings. The publisher missed an opportunity here to include a supplemental essay about the famous creators, their legacy and changing times. 

To whom would you recommend this book?  I have to think this would be most appreciated by those who loved the book as a child and have searched in vain for a replacement copy. 

Who should buy this book? I don’t think I would purchase it for a school or public library, unless you happen to be located in Minnesota and have high reader demand.

Where would you shelve it? If I were buying this for a library collection, I might put it in with books about the history of Minnesota, rather than in a picture book area. 

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: March 23, 2021

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