Vitan er pallurin - forvitni er drívmegin

Minimalism and Heroism

The Faroese nomination to The Nordic Council’s Prize for Children’s Literature 2014 is the picturebook Flata kaninin (The flat rabbit) by Bárður Oskarsson.
Bárður Oskarsson: Flata kaninin 2011Bárður Oskarsson: Flata kaninin 2011

The nomination committee, appointed by Rithøvundafelag Føroya (Faroese Writers’ Association) consists of Oddfríður Rasmussen, writer, and professor Turið Sigurðardóttir. In its justification the committee says:

While the nationbuilding literature strives to describe Faroese environment and its cultural manifestations, and the realistic literature endeavoures to give a representative account of a certain historical reality, the picturebook in the 21st Century only to a very little degree refers to a specific Faroese reality. Typically it depicts an anonymous urban environment with cultural references that are universal, so to speak. This is the case in Bárður Oskarsson’s picturebook Flata kaninin (The flat rabbit), 2011. No less universal is its theme, famous from classics like Antigone and The Iliad as well as being a painful actuality of our time, namely the final duty towards a fellow being, also in the case where it is neither easy nor riskfree.

The artist Bárður Oskarsson1, born 1972, was already known as an  illustrator of children’s books when in 2004 the first picturebook of which he was both author and illustrator appeared and in the following years he has had four more picturebooks published. They have been translated into Danish, Icelandic, German and French2.   
       Oskarsson’s books are about animals with important human traits. Frequently they live in the environment of humans, but humans are not present except perhaps implicidly as the cause of events with drastic consequences.
     In Flata kaninin (2011), where human doing is the antecedent of the plot a dog and a rat meet on a city sidewalk and see a rabbit lying flattened out on the drivelane. It must be presumed it has been run over by a car although nothing is said about it. The dog and rat  pity the rabbit for being so flat and  after much speculation the dog comes up with an idea what to do. Carefully so that it will not fall apart they bring the rabbit to the dog’s house. All night the sound of hammering can be heard from the dog’s house. When the morning arrives they have finished making a kite, and now they so to speak crucify the outstretched rabbit on the underside of the kite. After much trying they succeed in getting the kite with the rabbit up in the air. Finally the dog and rat wonder what it must be like for the rabbit up in the sky.
     The dog and rat react to the rabbit’s destiny with stoicism and empaty, free it from its humiliating exposure, and restore dignity to it. The dog with its slender limbs, huge head, and wet snout, is the thoughtful, feeling, main character. The subordinate  rat character is the dog’s small ally. The text as well as the illustrations are minimalistic and have mutually supplementary functions in rendering the  complex entirety of the story. For example no car is mentioned, but on the opening of pp. 13-14, there is a small gray car on the left where on the right we have a full page picture of the flat rabbit on the road with the dog and rat watching it from the sidewalk. Also, on the opening pp. 30-31, there is a red car - a memento? - to the left while on the right the dog is flying the kite with the rat watching.  Oskarsson employs  watercolours, mostly in transparent shades. In Flata kaninin very light the colours add softness to the unsentimental, naked illustrations.
      In the traditional reading of children’s literature3 the characters of Flata kaninin are representations of children. Interpreted thus, the book offers a powerful account of the so called competent child of our time, a concept referring to children who for certain reasons have acquired competences otherwise limited to adults4. Oskarsson’s  Flata kaninin  is a distinguished member of the category labelled books for all ages, in other words great literature.


1 Bárður Oskarsson. Lættleiki og líðing/Lethed og lidelse. 2013. Nils Ohrt (ed.), Birgitte Zacho & Turið Sigurðardóttir. Listasavn Føroya.
2 Bárður Oskarsson earned  the recognition of the White Raven in 2005 and  2012. In 2006 he was awarded  the children’s books’ prize of Tórshavn Town Council and of the Westnordic Council.
3 Perry Nodelman.1997. Barnelitteratur som sjanger. Harald Bache- Wiig (ed.). Nye veier til barneboka. NLU. Oslo, pp. 12-54,
4 Nina Christensen. 2002. Fictive Childhoods, on the Relationship between Childhood Studies and Childrens Literature. Efter barndommens død? Tidsskrift for Børne- & Ungdomskultur 46, pp. 107-120. Ed: Ulf Palmenfelt og Flemming Mouritsen. Syddansk Universitetsforlag.

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