Erik Magntorn’s story goes that a very loud, very angry, very tall Viking named Halvdan Hårde notoriously made bad decisions and forced other people to do what he wanted. He was basically a giant bully. This time, he wanted to set sail at a dangerous time of year and forced the villagers into his ship to find a distant land to plunder. However, as suspected, a hole in the ship forced the group to make an emergency stop on a nearby island. The villagers finally took back their power by fixing the boat and secretly setting sail in the middle of the night while Halvdan snored unknowingly. When Halvdan woke up, he underwent a transformation but not the one the audience is hoping for. He didn’t realize that his behavior had produced his circumstances and swear to become gentle and loving. It’s not a redemption story, unless you focus on the men who tapped into their courage and cunning to outsmart someone who had always controlled them.
What sells the book for me is less the story and more how it is presented. The text is written in a simple four-line rhyme pattern, which not only makes the book lovely to read aloud but helps a Swedish language learner immensely with pronunciation. Rhyming books are always my favourite to read! The size of the book, 178mm by 300mm, is quite unique and adds to the feeling that one is reading an ancient text. The incredible woodcut illustrations by Staffan Gnosspelius are the perfect choice to accompany this story: creepy and dark but playful enough to keep the story feeling light and easy for the younger ones. Halvdan is drawn as more silly than scary, and the muted colours contribute to the historical vibe. I appreciate how different Magntorn’s book looks from the majority of choices on the shelves these days. It’s a meaty choice for kids who appreciate more in a book than having their own lives reflected back to them.