In keeping with our never-ending thirst for Icelandic literature, we dove headfirst into this lauded tome. Nei! won the Bookstore Worker’s Literary Prize in 2004 and was published simultaneously in Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and the Faeroe Islands. While technically a pan-Scandinavian effort, Áslaug Jónsdóttir is credited as translator, illustrator and co-author, which makes it Icelandic enough for us.
Nei! recounts the tale of a little monster whose peaceful afternoon is shattered by a knock at his door that fills him with dread, as the unwelcome guest is “the big monster” – an obnoxious, pushy beast. From here, the story takes a Proustian turn into recollection, as we journey through the little monster’s memories of the big monster’s transgressions, such as never letting the little monster do the hiding in a game of hide-and-go-seek, leaving the caps off the little monster’s new markers, and stealing money from the purse of the little monster’s mother.
How does the big monster get away with it, time and time again? Because, as the little monster recalls with increasing resentment, he never dares to say anything. All that bottled-up rage has got to come out sooner or later, and it does: he opens the door and screams “No!” at the big monster. The big monster, understandably taken aback by this sudden growth of a spine, back-pedals and begs the little monster to stop screaming. The little monster agrees to do so only if the big monster will agree to play nice. Remarkably, the big monster obliges and the two become good friends. We leave the two with the little monster confiding in us that if the big monster ever starts reverting to his old habits, he won’t hesitate to say “No” again.
As there aren’t nearly enough children’s books that encourage children to stand up for themselves while warning against repression, we think this is a fine book to read to your kids. The illustrations are darkly comical as well, and we hope to see more of Jónsdóttir’s work in the future.
Nei! sagði litla skrímslið (No! said the little monster) Rakel Helmsdal, Kalle Güettler, and Áslaug Jónsdóttir
Mál og Menning, 2004
1990 ISK, available at Penninn-Eymundsson and Mál og Menning, at locations around the country.