By Maureen Tai, 9 June 2020
Hattie doesn’t even live in the middle of nowhere. She lives outside it.
I love growing-up stories (fictional or otherwise) as they allow me to relive my own rather idyllic childhood spent in a small town in Malaysia. Hattie is a charming, not-quite-middle grade chapter book, translated from Swedish, that follows the irrepressibly mischievous yet irresistibly loveable six-year old from her first day of her first year of school to the summer holidays. Each chapter is a short, self-contained story of an event in Hattie’s life and while each event is actually pretty “normal”, they are very, very funny to read about. Ben points out when we read together that he is reminded of Nicholas and the Gang and I agree very much with his observation.
Hattie and her family live in an extremely remote part of Sweden, somewhat close to a little town called Hardemo. How remote you ask? An Internet search of “Hardemo” reveals little information in English, but the translated Wikipedia page proudly announces that “[t]he Hardemo area is rich in ancient remains.” Most images of Hardemo are of an austere church building, with a stern-looking spire.
Nevertheless, Hardemo is the tiny town where Hattie’s school is. It is also where the hospital where her mother works is, and the newspaper office where her father works is. It boasts a shoe shop rather oddly called Cannon Shoes (the logic being that they have blasted their shoe prices to smithereens), a church that hosts a free Children’s Hour where a sunny lady called Irene reads aloud stories about Jesus, and a hair salon with a hair stylist called Ben who wears two pairs of glasses at the same time.
Regardless of how “in the middle of nowhere” her stories take place, Hattie faces her trials and tribulations with the guilelessness and gumption of a fiercely independent six-year old. Some of Hattie’s troubles are of her own making, like the time she locks a classmate in the school shed and forgets to let her out. Or when she goes against her father’s advice and feeds fresh cream to her pet tadpoles. Or when she decides to write rude Easter letters and post them to all the neighbouring summer houses as payback for a poor haul of sweet treats. Other times, her troubles are inflicted on her by others, such as Richard, the boy in her class who calls Hattie a witch, or Henrika, the despotic lunch lady at school who forces her best friend, Linda, to down several pieces of blood pudding. Hattie’s attempts at revenge almost always backfire, thankfully without anyone getting fatally wounded or psychologically scarred. In typical little girl fashion, Hattie bounces back so quickly after every incident that while we invariably feel sorry for our little heroine, we never feel too sorry.
Hattie is a refreshing romp through a childhood that will be enjoyable for both young and old alike. Some of the Swedish traditions and references are unfamiliar to us, but they add rather than detract from the lively storytelling. The text, while simple, is very effective at creating a cast of characters that are colourful, yet realistic and relatable. “Oh, I know someone just like that!” you might think, as you follow Hattie on her six-year-old hijinks. Don’t just take my word for it. Check it out for yourself.
For ages 6 and up.