A predominant quality I have come to discover in Swedish culture is the very same one I discover in Inger Hansson’s Äventyret med väsken: an unconcerned, calm, composed approach to life. Like most Swedes I know, the characters in this book take life, and its events, as they unfold. Jesper and Erik travel by train to spend a vacation week with Erik’s grandparents by the sea. Jesper accidentally picks up a bag identical to his own when getting off the train and so does not arrive ready for all the activities the boys had planned. There is no real worrying or wringing of hands. Instead, the boys have fun. They swim and snorkel, go boating, discover a carnival, and eventually locate the owner of the swapped bag and exchange back. I doubt this story would be called an adventure if it were written in English. The boys would have to near-drown or get terribly lost or break an arm. Hansson’s idea of an adventure is wholly charming and, I believe, quite Swedish.
The author writes as though she truly understands children, the way they view the world, and the way they talk about it with each other. More than once, the dialogue reminded me of Beverly Cleary, who in my mind is the gold standard for getting inside the mind of a child. The one hundred-page, eight-chapter book is peppered with interesting facts about nature, animals, safety, and environmentalism. My seven-year-old is not able to read the bigger words but enjoyed hearing the book read aloud. A likely sweet spot for really being able to enjoy the storyline and identify with the main characters is age six to eight. Illustrator Daniella Birkebo has drawn quirky, simplistic cartoons that may cause a kid older than eight to dismiss the book as something for the littler ones.