From Iceland — Empowering Children Through History: “Daughters of Iceland” By Nína Björk Jónsdóttir

Empowering Children Through History: “Daughters of Iceland” By Nína Björk Jónsdóttir

Empowering Children Through History: “Daughters of Iceland” By Nína Björk Jónsdóttir

Published August 11, 2022

Photo by
Joana Fontinha

The Icelandic sagas tell the stories of the strong and courageous people who settled on the inhospitable shores of this island. But for author Nína Björk Jónsdóttir, the women of history always seemed to be overshadowed by their husbands and fathers, even though their stories are just as daring and dramatic. She wants children to know that, in reality, women played a powerful role in settling and shaping the country we know today and that they, too, can shape history.

“History is often taught through the men,” Nína Björk says. “We learn that the first settler was Ingólfur Arnarson, and Hallveig Fróðadóttir is just referred to as his wife, if she’s mentioned at all. There’s a statue of him downtown where he overlooks the centre of Reykjavík, but she was there as well. There’s only a small street named after Hallveig that leads off a bigger road with Ingólfur’s name.”

This was the motivation behind Nína Björk’s children’s book, “Daughters of Iceland,” which was recently published in Icelandic and as an abridged English version. She felt Iceland was lacking a book like this: one that chronicles the lives of not just the most well-known Icelandic women, but other important “firsts” in Icelandic history.

Written with children, for children

Nína Björk is herself a woman marked by the Icelandic spirit—full of ideas she is compelled to put into words, and with a passion for gender equality that manifests both in how she writes and how she raises her children.

She has lived abroad for almost a third of her life but always values coming home to Iceland. Nína Björk has two children, and when they lived abroad with her, she felt it was important to teach them about Icelandic history since they weren’t learning it in school.

“Both of my children have been with me throughout this journey,” Nína Björk says, of writing “Daughters of Iceland.” “They had some ideas and suggestions; when my son was learning about history, he came home and said, ‘mom, I learned about a really strong woman today!’”

Nína Björk hopes the stories in the book will empower her children and others to be anything they want to be, knowing there were many powerful Icelandic women that paved the way for them.

Uncommon accounts

Of the 44 women featured in the original Icelandic book—cut to 23 in the English version—Nína Björk says she could not choose a favourite. “I love them all dearly,” she explains. “There are many more that I would have loved to include.”

Nína Björk says she wanted to cover women from a variety of backgrounds and regions, especially ones that aren’t often covered in the media, so she read dozens of books, magazine articles, and historical accounts. Her descriptions delve beyond the surface of these women’s lives, telling how they grew up and achieved great things.

“I was trying to focus a bit on their childhood, to show kids that we all start small,” Nína Björk says. “Everybody who is famous or doing great things today was a child at one point. For example, Björk went to the same school as my kids today. I thought that was empowering for children.”

Tattoo artist and illustrator Auður Ýr Elísabetardóttir created the images for the book, which feature the daughters dressed in period-specific clothing, holding items they likely would have used in their daily lives.

“I think the pictures bring the book to life,” Nína Björk says. “There’s a lot of respect for the women, but they’re also sweet and have a bit of humour.”

Where no woman has gone

When Nína Björk was only five years old, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir became the fourth president of Iceland, and the first female head of state in the world. Nína Björk says this impacted her generation and every generation after as more women assumed leadership roles in parliament and other sectors.

“It made me think, ‘what could I be that no woman has done or been before?’” Nína Björk says. “Just to have the liberty to think that it’s allowed and okay to think so big, that’s what she gave to Icelandic children.”

Nína Björk says her book is not just for Icelanders. Everyone can learn something from “Daughters of Iceland”.

“These Icelandic women have a message for the whole world,” Nína Björk explains. “You can be anything. Everybody starts somewhere. If you have big dreams and you pursue them and don’t stop at the first obstacle, you can achieve whatever you set your mind to.”

Daughters of Iceland is available for purchase in our online store: shop.grapevine.is

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