The Summer Book

Written and illustrated by the Swedish-speaking Finn who was the first born daughter of a tight-knit Helsinki family, only leaving home at age 28, and who lived with her companion for years except during the coldest of winter on an island at the edge of the Pellinge archipelago, on an island smaller than that described in the book. Jansson wrote this when she was 60, after the death of her mother, which is alluded to in the book when Sophia realizes she has a bed to herself because her mother just died. A cantankerous Sophia bosses and demands and cozies up to her grandmother, who has lived on the island for nearly 50 years, the father a slim shadowy figure alluded to rarely. Sophia and grandmother slide on bellies through the woods, dip into caves, Sophia watches as her grandmother sneaks cigarettes hidden from her father, grandmother frantically rebuilds the model of Venice that got swept away in the storm so that Sophia doesn’t have to deal with another loss. The friend of Sophia with hair that delights Sophia, who is afraid of everything, and who once her hair is wet and ugly, is banished from the island. Sophia finds a cat that refuses her affection, trades it for one that’s too affectionate and yearns for the original one. The midsummer adventures with Erikkson, a silent friend who sweeps into their life and stashes firecrackers with them, promising to come back to set them off at midsummer eve, but instead who scoops them up in his boat and they help him salvage bottles from a shipwreck, alongside other frantic boaters (and the coast guard, who turned a blind eye). Sophia’s attempt to sleep in a tent on the ravine awakens grandmother’s memories of leading a scout troop. Grandmother and Sophia’s breaking into the new neighbor’s house and getting caught, grandmother warning the businessman that around there it’s best to leave buildings open, or at least with the key somewhere. Wonderfully translated by Thomas Teal, recommended by a brilliant staff member of Spoonbill and Sugartown in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.