Receiving a package with a book in it is not entirely a noteworthy occurrence for someone who owns a bookstore. Every now and then, however, one stands out even before it is opened. I got one of that variety on Tuesday, a very thin package that came from Switzerland, a point of origin I saw no particular reason for. Another thing which stood out was that it came to my home address. Inside it were two items. One was this hand drawn card.
The other was this book.
All was revealed. My wife and I spend a week on Monhegan Island each summer. Last year a friend had told us that her sister and her sister’s husband, Maja and This, who are Swiss, would be coming out to the island for a day and would we take them hiking? We were happy to. They were delightful people and during the course of our hike we talked children’s books. They were interested in the American scene and also shared a particular Swiss picture book as being a big favorite of their children’s, an adventure with Muggestutz the Dwarf. Had I ever heard of it? I had not. This book, they deemed, was something all children would love and they recommended that the universe conspire to make it available in the U.S., though to their knowledge it was only in Swiss.
The enclosed hand drawn card, which had also reminded me that This was an artist, revealed that they had unexpectedly come across an English language version of Muggestutz in Switzerland, and then kindly purchased it and sent it on to me.
I was, as you might expect, fascinated to read Muggestutz for a variety of reasons: the personal element, the intriguing variance of sensibility between European and U.S. picture books, along with the knowledge that this had been a family favorite of a very literary and artistic family.
One interesting aspect of the book is that it is not only based on traditional stories of Hasli Dwarves, but its adventures take place along a Dwarf adventure trail which actually exists on the Hasliberg in the Bernese Oberland, in Switzerland. The book, written and illustrated by Susanna Schmid-Germann, was in fact a joint publishing venture of Licorne Verlag and the Meringen Halsiberg Region’s tourism agency.
In this sense the book is a happy partnership between a region promoting its history and outdoor recreational infrastructure, and a traditional publisher. The book is an old-school style of picture book with each spread comprised of one full page illustration accompanied by a full facing page of text. It comes across as a read-aloud chapter book, such as My Father’s Dragon, in a picture book setting. I found the illustrations to be quite engaging and evocative. Look at the cave of Muggestatz and his wife Raurinde.
It is hidden from the world above unless you know to look for the ladder. The whole system of ladders, so concrete and practical, is just the sort of thing I loved to imagine making use of as a child. The story is at all times very warm and welcoming. It follows Muggestuz’s quest to find a particularly nice gift for Raurinde’s Naming Day. On this quest he is has no notion that Raurinde is secretly following him and aiding him along his journey. The Hasli Dwarves are hard working, friendly, and adventuresome. They are fond of nature, food, animals, and each other. They do not like to be made sport of. In fact it was a cruel prank by some local boys which drove them way from the valley some years ago. The pacing and tone of the story are just right for sharing. I am a fan.
The original book, Muggestutz der Haslizwerg Abenteuer auf dem Zwergenweg, was published in 1997 and the English version in 2015. There is no doubt in my mind that I could sell this book well here but, alas, there is no U.S. distribution. The tale has a strong timeless appeal to be sure and yet, the more I read it, the more familiar it seemed to me. And then it hit me. One of my booksellers, Elliott, was in all probability a Hasli Dwarf himself.
Kenny: Okay Elliott, when did you leave the Hasli valley and why?
Elliott: Land forfeitures executed by mono crop companies left my farm devastated. I was forced to migrate.
Kenny: Will you ever return?
Elliott: As you know I am leaving in June to seek my kin and to retake our farmstead.
Kenny: I see. It all falls into place now. If there is anything I can do to further your quest I am ready to help!
Elliott: Send your contributions to the HDLRP. (The Hasli Dwarf Land Re-Acquisition Party).
And so it truly is that the world is both smaller and wider than we tend to believe.