The first Moomin picture book was a praised breakthrough – how did Tove Jansson do it?

With The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My, Tove Jansson made her international breakthrough as a picture book author. Watch our short documentary, shedding new light on the first Moomin picture book!

The bold and unconventional colors, holes in the pages, constant cliffhangers and scary landscapes – including massive vacuum cleaners and lost mothers – made the book unique, especially amongst children’s books, already when it was published in English 1953, a year after the original version in Swedish.

Our new mini-documentary sheds new light on the first Moomin picture book – what a huge effort it took for Tove Jansson to create this masterpiece – fitting the story, illustrations, holes, complicated colour scheme and the limiting printing possibilities together.

The holes and the colours made the first Moomin picture book unique

The book was printed in only three colors, but Jansson turns this limitation in her favour.  By cutting holes into the pages to make more colors visible, she instead turns the book into a celebration of colors.

The book was printed in only three colors, but Jansson turns this limitation into her favour. 

In this short documentary, Tove Jansson’s striking original illustrations come to life through new animations, accompanied by newly written music by composer and Stratovarius bassist Lauri Porra

The Book about Moomin Mymble and Little My

You will also see unique material from the Manuscript Collections at Åbo Akademi University, showing Jansson’s handcrafted drafts and mini models of the book, shedding new light on how complicated it was to design “the crown jewel of Moomin books” without any of the modern technology we have today.

She makes the drafts on enormous papers that are folded several times, in order to calculate how the book should be printed – a complicated process, to say the least.

The Book about Moomin Mymble and Little My
Tove Jansson’s letter to her editor 1951.

Tove Jansson also writes long and detailed letters to her editor, in order to make everything right. “Any mistake in assembling the book could destroy the whole concept — I know it’s rather a bother with all those holes”, she told her editor Thure Svedlin at Schildts.

The Book about Moomin Mymble and Little My
Tove Jansson’s handpainted version draft of the book with notes about colours for the printing house.

The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My is also regarded as Tove Jansson’s international breakthrough, and made the Moomins known for the larger public in her home country Finland, as it was the first Moomin book to be published in Finnish (also in 1952).  Tove Jansson belonged to the minority of Swedish-speaking Finns in Finland, and thus wrote all her books in her mother tongue Swedish.

This prizewinning book both shocked and fascinated the reviewers, but most of them thought it was an exquisit book, says  Tove Jansson biographer Boel Westin.

New interest for the first Moomin picture book in the UK & US

According to publisher Natania Jansz at Sort of Books, it’s fair to say that the  2001 publication of a brand new English version of The Book of Moomin, Mymble and Little My helped launch  a revival of Tove Jansson’s work in the UK and US.

“Suddenly there was a “new” Jansson title showing how stunning and incredibly innovative her art work and ideas were and prompting high profile Moomin fans such as Philip Pullman to step forward. The progression of cut out pages and interactions with the reader seemed so ahead of its time – more in step with a future (even for 2001) age of smart phone books and apps than the 1950s!”

The book had a blaze of publicity boosted by older Moomin fans recalling the books they’d loved in their childhood and spreading their enthusiasm by word of mouth. It sold in excess of 50k copies – a rare achievement for a decades old children’s hardback and has continued to be a strong and perennial seller, she says.

“But the main thing is that – as in its illustrations – it swung open a window for new and old Moomin fans to discover new Moomin reprinted editions and all the newly translated Tove Jansson titles to come”.

Want to know more? Watch our last documentary about the first Moomin story!