MOOMIN featured in Publishers Weekly

“More Moomin Magic” / Publishers Weekly / Karen Springen / April 20, 2009

Could a decades-old Scandinavian series about a family of hippo-shaped trolls become the next Winnie the Pooh? Maybe.

Publishers of the Moomin books, introduced by Finnish writer/illustrator Tove Jansson in 1945, are breathing new life into the franchise. Many Americans may well say, “Moomin who?” But the droll trolls enjoy a cult following in places like Scandinavia and Japan, and the books have been translated into 34 languages. Over the decades fans have avidly followed the humorous adventures—and misadventures—of a family that changes its last name to “de Moomin” when it visits the Riviera and that lives in a forest—but sometimes in a lighthouse and a theater.

For the Moomins' 65th anniversary next year, reissued and repackaged novels and comics are planned, as are brand-new pre-k board, lift-the-flap, picture and coloring books. “It's sort of a second generation of effort,” said Wesley Adams, executive editor at Macmillan's Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which has published the Moomin novels since 1989. (Macmillan’s Square Fish imprint will be issuing redesigned paperback editions next year.)

At last month's Bologna Children's Book Fair, Puffin U.K. showed a new preschool Moomin series, which will launch in Britain in July 2010. Also appearing at the fair was Tove Jansson's niece, Sophia Jansson, who is the artistic director of a company called Moomin Characters, founded by the Moomin estate. (All Moomin books and products must receive Moomin Characters' approval.) It was Sophia Jansson's idea to create the new preschool books. “They are aimed at the family's youngest readers, who might have a hard time starting with the original Moomin books,” she said. (Sophia's father, Lars, continued the Moomin newspaper comic strips after Tove Jansson, who died in 2001, stopped writing and drawing them in 1961.)

Puffin U.K. is talking to several dozen publishers in more than 20 countries about translation rights for the pre-k books. The new titles will use “exactly the same text and pictures” in the translations and in any U.S. editions, said Roleff Krakstrom, managing director of Moomin Characters. A U.S. publisher has not yet been decided on; “we first want to see how the program is doing internationally,” Krakstrom said. When the time comes for a U.S. contract, Moomin Characters could pick Puffin, FSG — or another publisher. "We are going to look at the best marketing and launch plans," he noted.

U.S. publishers are interested. “When I was in Bologna, and I saw this big white Moomin character walking around, I became smitten,” said Jean Feiwel, publishing director of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group and publisher of Square Fish. She notes that the preschool books seem “carefully considered” rather than “oh, my gosh, I'm sure the original creator is just turning over” creations.

The Moomins remain steady sellers. FSG's edition of Finn Family Moomintroll, with more than 100,000 copies in print, is in its 20th printing. Next year the eight Moomin novels will be repackaged by Square Fish. Feiwel said they plan to keep the original drawings, but “will probably reset the entire book. It's going to look better.”

The Moomin family is also enjoying a resurgence in the comics arena. Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly, which has already printed three volumes of the Moomin comic strips, which started appearing in the London Evening News in 1954, will publish a fourth in June. “I didn't want to make a 500-page book, with all the strips in one book,” said Tom Devlin, creative director at Drawn & Quarterly. The literary comics publisher will also put out four picture books—The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My this fall, Who Will Comfort Toffle? in 2010 and Dangerous Journey and The Moomins and the Great Flood, most likely in 2011 and 2012—as well as an English translation of a Tove Jansson biography.

Moomin fans are cautiously optimistic about the pre-k books. in the pipeline “[It] could be a good way to bring the Moomins to a wider American audience, with the caveat that everything is taken from the original illustrations and text to remain true to Jansson's intent,” said Amy Graham, a customer of DDG Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, who reads the stories with her two daughters.

While Puffin used Jansson's original drawings for the pre-k line, the books do feature new text, “in complete collaboration and with the blessing of Tove's niece,” said Zosia Knopp, Puffin U.K.'s rights director, who believes that the text and art succeed in capturing the tone and spirit of the original stories.

DDG Booksellers owner Kenny Brechner, who called Tove Jansson's work “timeless,” isn't completely convinced about the idea of “writing down to a younger audience.” Still, between last year's New York Review of Books reissue of Tove Jansson's adult novel, The Summer Book, and the popularity of D&Q's comics editions, he has seen “a definite resurgence of influence” in things Moomin.

Ellen Richmond, owner of Children's Book Cellar in Waterville, Maine, says she will "certainly carry" the new preschool books when they become available. She believes the added color and the lift-the-flap idea will be “eye-catching for kids,” though she does wonder how some of the humor will “translate to little guys.”

Ten years ago, FSG's Adams's now 14-year-old daughter dressed up as the Moomin Little My for Halloween. “Nobody knew who she was,” said the editor, who fell in love with Finn Family Moomintroll himself at age 10. Next year, he predicts, a kid dressed up as a Moomin should have better luck.

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