A Moomin Great Celebration of Tove Jansson's 100th Anniversary

Tove Jansson and her Moomins
Image via tove100.com

This year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Tove Jansson, the author and illustrator of the eccentric, magical and beloved Moomintroll books. Both in her native Finland and around the world, there are events, exhibitions and reprints and new editions of her beloved books.

The Moomins
Image copyright Tove Jansson, via wikipedia.org

So I am joining in with my own bit of Tove appreciation! Tove Jansson was also a painter and comic strip artist, but it’s her Moomins that she was most famous for. They have occupied pages of books (which have been translated into 35 languages), comic strips, stop-motion animations, cartoons and lots and lots of merchandise along the way.

Tove Jansson
Tove Jansson

Tove herself was a whimsical person from a very bohemian family, and she was one of a small percentage of Swedish-speaking Finns. She had a wild imagination, and I have always thought she sort of looks like she belonged in a Moomin book. Then I saw her illustration (top) of her cuddling them all and that sealed it. She looks like she could be Little My’s mother. Indeed, it’s thought that both Moomintroll and Little My are psychological self-portraits of Tove, and that Too-Ticky’s personality was inspired by her long-time life partner, the famous Finnish graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä.

The cover of The Summer Book shows the little island where Tove Jansson and her brother built a cabin and spent every summer
Image via southbankcentre.co.uk (where a discussion of the book will take place on August 6th)

I am nearing the end of The Summer Book, a Scandinavian classic that’s one of Jansson’s books for adults. It is the perfect read for me right now, because I will be spending some of this summer on a far-off island, where there isn’t even electricity – salt water bleached rocks, forgotten pine forests, lichen orange against soft granite grey, waist-high grass meadows. In The Summer Book ‘nothing happens but everything happens’. I can’t say more than that about it, just read it already!


For now I will share with you two Moomin/Tove events I think you absolutely shouldn’t miss this summer. Both are being held as part of Tove100, the worldwide festival of treats happening the world over in celebration of the 100th anniversary. I will miss the first, for being away. I will do all I can do to the second.

1) Moominsummer Madness 

‘Moominsummer Madness’ at The Polka Theatre
Image via whatsonstage.com

This combines two of my serious childhood loves – the Moomins and the Polka Theatre. As a child who grew up in Asia, my family and I would escape the stifling 100-per cent humidity (yesterday’s ‘heatwave’ really was nothing to write home about!) each summer and spend a few weeks in a family friend’s rambling house on Wimbledon Common. The Polka Theatre was a treat that we looked forward to all year – so lucky – and was full of mystery and fun.

This summer it hosts a puppet play full of live music and humour that is based on the story of the same name by Tove Jansson. With the exquisite puppets of the Moomins made by Little Angel Theatre, it will be stunning. Get a flavour of it from this video of the Moomins in rehearsal (OH MY GOD LOOK AT THE SET – ‘visual feast’ indeed!). Enchanting.


Address: 240 The Broadway, Wimbledon, SW19 1SB
Tel. no: 020 8543 4888
Website: polkatheatre.com
Tickets: Adult, £13; Concs, £9
Dates: Until 16 August

2) Tove Jansson: Tales from the Nordic Archipelago

Tove Jansson web
Tove Jansson in front of the tiny cabin on the second island she occupied later in her life
Image courtesy of The Finnish Institute, London, via ica.org.uk

This is more one for you than your kids. It’s a small exhibition of archive photographs and materials relating to Tove Jansson’s life and work, showing unseen images of life on her summer island in the Finnish archipelago and of her studio in Helsinki. These rare pictures were shot over 60 years by her good friend C-G Hagström and her brother Per Olav Jansson. 

Address: Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, London, SW1Y 5AH
Tel. no: 020 7930 3647
Website: ica.org.uk
Dates and times: until 24 Aug, 11am-6pm (Thu until 9pm). Closed Mon


Back to the Moomins, if you or your children need a basic-but-beautiful introduction to the characters and their world, go and pick up this tiny concertina-style book from Bags of Books at the bottom of Cliffe High Street in Lewes. Perfect for popping in some hand luggage when you travel to other worlds for your hols – and for taking your children to other worlds all of their own (mine are obsessed with it).

‘Moominvalley for the Curious Explorer’: A Pull-Out Pop-Up Book – £5.99, Puffin Books 

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Isn’t it lovely?


I have also seen Jansson’s first ever Moomin book ‘The Moomins and the Great Flood’ at Bags of Books. The illustrations are amazing, very naive versions of her already-simple characters.

Cover artwork from The Moomins and The Great Flood
Image copyright Tove Jansson, via littlescandinavian.com

Read the very fluid review that Jeanette Winterson wrote about it in The Telegraph when it was re-published in 2012. I love this particular excerpt: “I keep the Moomin books in my study and if I am tinkering about preparing for work I will often open one at random and read a page – they are funny and subversive. And playful. Whatever happened to playfulness? Why, as adults, is serious/superficial the boring binary of our lives?” 

I am moving into a new shared work studio in September, and I think I will go down to Bags of Books to buy a Moomin tome or two to take a leaf out of Winterson’s book (guffaw).


Then, you must also see the lovely blog post I read over at Brain Pickings that someone I follow on Twitter posted this week.

A Tove Jansson illustration from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, published in 1959
Image copyright Tove Jansson, via brainpickings.org

(If you want to get truly lost in the Internet, this is the site to head for. Hours of your life with disappear but you will come out of it much the wiser) about Jansson’s illustrations for an edition of Alice in Wonderland she created in 1959 – nearly 20 years before the Moomins were born.

The images are haunting and a little scary – which is just what Alice in Wonderland is as a story (to me, anyway).


And finally, if you want to see the most gorgeous response to a fan letter ever, just click the image below see a story as part of the Guardian’s ‘Letters of Note’ series.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 15.01.06
The letter from Tove Jansson that Ruth McKay received, age 7
Image via theguardian.com

Here’s a little excerpt if you’re finding the image above hard to decipher:

“We’ve had a fine Christmas – the days are short but one knows that the light is returning more and more. Soon, I’ll start waiting for spring. Then, I go on to my island in the Finnish Gulf, a tiny one with no trees or bushes – only rock and wild flowers. And big, beautiful storms. You would love it! Strange animals wander about, not afraid at all. I’m planning to plant a lot of rose bushes next year. Red ones.

Heart-warming. I honestly think correspondence like this has died. (Thanks for that Digital Age, although I am grateful to you that I can see this letter on the Internet…).

For more on Tove100, see tove100.com

Happy 100th anniversary to you, Tove! 

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I’m Kate, a copywriter, brand consultant and editor who creates messages that are clear and clean. I create these for brands and agencies both big and boutique, in areas including design, homes and interiors, travel, fashion, lifestyle, beauty, food, and kids and families. I believe clear, clean messages bolster brands and businesses. They evoke emotion and ignite inspiration, and when written well, they’re easier to absorb – and respond to. I live in Copenhagen and am half-English, half-Danish. I write as comfortably in American English as in British, and behind the scenes I'm also studying Danish. Need help getting your message out? Contact me.

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