When I was a little girl, I was utterly enamored with Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking. She was feisty and strong and yet compassionate, and for a small town girl, she was a fascinating and adventurous character. Of course, when I say little I mean probably around 9 or so. I never knew that she had written these picture books, they had entirely passed me by. Now, for my two and four year olds, The Tomten and The Tomten and the Fox are mainstays in the bedtime story pile.
A tomten is a sort of kindly old troll that keeps watch over a farm, protecting its animals and children (he speaks a language only they can understand). The first book, The Tomten, introduces the little gnome-like man as he makes his rounds on the farm, poetically reassuring the animals that winter would end and it would soon be spring. It is a comforting and gentle story.
In The Tomten and the Fox, it is a cold and silent winter’s night and under the bright stars, a hungry fox creeps onto the farm. As he stealthily makes his way to the henhouse, he is stopped by the sound of tiny footsteps in the snow. It is the tomten, there not only to protect the hens, but to negotiate with the fox, for he is a compassionate creature.
But an old tomten knows that a fox can be hungry.
“Here you are, eat this porridge!”
Every night the children fill the Tomten’s bowl with porridge. They have never seen him, but they know he is there.
“It’s good, isn’t it? Eat, Reynard, you can share my porridge. Every night if you like. But don’t touch our hens!”
Now of course we don’t live in the cold and snow right now, but we came here from Montana, where the winters were long and the snow was…well, abundant. There is no better book to read to children on a cold winter’s night, snuggled into their warm beds, snow falling outside. I couldn’t help but read it in a hushed voice, and as I would walk down the hall after kissing my son goodnight, I would look out the window at the snow and repeat from the book,
It is a night for foxes and tomtens.