HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Children of the Soil: A Story of Scandanavia
Author: Nora Burglon
Illustrator: Edgar Parin Daulaire
Publisher: Doubleday and Company Inc., republished 1955
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 10-14
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Burglon, Nora. Children of the Soil: A Story of Scandanavia (published in 1932 by Doubleday Doran and Company Inc., Garden City, NY). It is Easter time in the early 1900s, and Nicolina Salstrad, a schoolgirl, lives in a crofter’s house at Malmostrand in Sweden’s Norrland, with her mother Olina and younger brother Guldklumpen. Their father Tage was a sailor who is missing and presumed dead in a shipwreck. As a result, the family is very poor. Olina makes cheese to sell at the market and sews clothes for the ladies of the local gentry, but things are so tight that the children cannot afford even to have Easter eggs. What will happen to this fatherless family of dirt-poor tenant farmers in turn of the century Sweden? Is there anything that the youngsters might do to help with the household finances? Can their hard work, application of talent, and humble outlook gain them any measure of success? And will the father ever return home?
One reviewer wrote, “At first glance, this book would appeal to virtually no modern reader. However, it has an immense charm that’s hard to describe. I became such a fan of the kids and their hard-working mother that I literally raced to finish the novel….Also, everyone loves an underdog that does well.” Another reviewer said, “This might seem an odd choice to get my ‘favorite’ label, since there’s very little conflict in the book and no excessive excitement, either. But this book is marvelous in its simplicity, and I have a fondness for books about poor children who nonetheless live happy and rich lives because they have wonderful family and a life free from unnecessary complications.” From an educational standpoint, there is some good information on Swedish history and folklore. On a more general note, Burglon aims a mild criticism at the universal class prejudice that exists between the gentry and the poor folk.
The book, a runner-up for the 1933 Newbery Medal, follows Nicolina and Guldklumpen through their annual traditions, marketing, and school, to the next Easter. Although the children suffer small injustices and disappointments, no real misfortune comes to them. And as a result of their efforts, their fortune begins to slowly change over the course of the following year. While there are some references to pre-Christian, pagan beliefs of Sweden, especially about the tompte (gnomes or elves), there are many instances where the Salstrands thank God for their small favors. It is quite evident that Olina has taught her youngsters to trust in the Lord and that the Bible is important in their home. Children of the Soil is really a generally happy story in which the kids are just being kids, the kind who stay out of trouble and might get ignored by most but are actually quite exemplary.