Vi Vinner! is a recent addition to the extra lätt att läsa Solgatan 1 series by Helena Bross and illustrated by Kadri Ilves. My kids just love the two main characters, Omar and Axel, especially my seven-year-old, who is the target age for these stories. She often studies the page of students in Axel and Omar’s class to see which names she recognizes from among her own classmates. (For the record, none.)
Vi Vinner! tells the story of Omar and Axel’s adventure during skoljoggen, which I gather is a school-wide race very common in Swedish schools that, in this book, adorably and oh-so-Swedishly takes place in the woods. Actually, I found much of this story adorable and Swedish. I have been living here for almost six months, so I am beginning to recognize what is particularly Swedish: mossy woods, extremely direct communication, low-key and laid-back interactions, coziness, calmness, measured and deliberate responses, a keen stewardship of nature, and fika. Vi Vinner! covers almost all of these.
Omar and Axel are excited about the race. We see them agree to run together, and we see Axel pack his best running shoes the night before. After some warm-up exercises, the race begins. The boys run so fast that they catch up to the third-graders and become convinced that they will indeed win the race!
Then a series of events causes Axel and Omar to delay their arrival at the finish line. Axel trips and injures his knees, they snack on wild blueberries while recovering, and they pick up a little lost dog along the way who becomes tired and must rest. The dog’s owner shows up later at the finish line, grateful to the boys for their help.
What I find particularly compelling about the story is that the boys are not at all disappointed about being last (and the teacher, although a bit worried, is not annoyed or angry with them for being gone so long). Life happened, and that’s all there is. I find this sentiment among my Swedish friends all the time. “Were you upset?” I’ll ask them. “Hmmm, no. It just happened,” they’ll respond with a shrug. As an expressive, hot-tempered person, I am fascinated by the even keel of the Swede. At first, I judged these traits as dispassionate and robotic, but now I am growing to appreciate such rootedness, and I realize I need more of it.
At the end of Vi Vinner!, Selda asks the boys where they were, and the book ends with Omar and Axel saying, “First, we picked blueberries, and then we found a dog.” See? Direct communication, calmness, measured responses. Everyone is walking and smiling. How charming! They did win in their own way. Perhaps the author did not intend quite so much analysis of her text, but I discover the secret to Swedish life here: how could it be anything but winning when you wait for your friend, rescue a dog, have a snack, and rest in the woods? No one is upset. Life happens, and isn’t it wonderful.