The Horn Book Magazine asked Elizabeth Bird, “What’s the strangest children’s book you’ve ever enjoyed?”
“No answers are provided, no hints are given. This lack of resolution makes for an ultimately unsatisfying story.” So said SLJ of the early 1990s Swedish import Else-Marie and Her Seven Little Daddies by Pija Lindenbaum (and adapted by Gabrielle Charbonnet). Like that reviewer, I too encountered this book as an adult. Unlike that reviewer, I found it so strange and so unlike any of the American picture books I knew that I fell deeply and unrepentantly in love. The plot is simple. Rather than one big daddy, Else-Marie has seven little ones. No explanation for this is given (hence SLJ’s cries of pain). Our heroine is just a normal little girl with universal fears. She’s embarrassed by her parents’ singing, worried about the impression they’ll make on her friends at school, etc. In the event that the reader is a child, the internal logic of the book is airtight. Kids of the younger ages are simply not going to ponder the sticky details of how, exactly, one girl comes from seven little men (though a wedding shot of the mother in her white dress with her tiny bridegrooms collected around her ankles was enough to get my imagination spinning).
The temptation, of course, is to consider this book (now out of print in the United States) ahead of its time. It thumbs its nose so thoroughly at standard conventions and the normality of so-called “traditional” families that as a parent I find myself wanting to draw some sort of lesson from its good-natured, nontraditional attitude. However, I cannot help but think that that would be as much a mistake as it would be to apply Freudian interpretations to the admittedly ripe situation. In the end, I think we just have to accept that sometimes seven vertically challenged fathers are just seven vertically challenged fathers.
From the March/April 2013 special issue of The Horn Book Magazine.