Monday, November 7, 2011

Books We Love: “Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and Their New Skates” by Maj Lindman

Book Review by Jack Silbert
Huey, Dewey, and Louie, I knew-y. Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka, not so much. So I was curious when I learned of this reissued vintage picture book from Swedish author and illustrator Maj Lindman. From the scant information available online, I could gather that Lindman created a series about these blond identical triplet girls, and another series about boys Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr. (No, Snapp did not change the spelling of his name and join another trio with Crackle and Pop.) My understanding is that the books were published in Sweden starting in the 1920s, and then reprinted in English in the U.S. from the 1930s through the ’50s. New Skates made its U.S. debut in 1950, but has long been out of print.

Not that I think modern kids will notice this is a decades-old story. It’s a pretty timeless tale of Christmas, winter, and skating. Indeed, the handsome hardcover, done up in red and green, resembles a Christmas present. A coating of sparkle on the names “Flicka, Ricka, Dicka” and also on the ice’s skate marks adds to the cover’s festive look, and provides a fun bit of texture. The cover’s wavy-ribbon trim is picked up as a motif, alternating red and green, on the internal text pages. It’s a nice subtle touch.

Fittingly, it’s a Christmas present that sets off our Nordic ice queens’ adventure. Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka each receive a pair of shiny skates from Mom and Dad. And why not identical gifts for these identical sisters? They dress in matching outfits as well. Actually, the story spans at least three days, and Flicka, Dicka, and Ricka don’t seem to change their clothes even once. This didn’t bother me; I imagined a row of identical outfits in each girl’s closet, much like the Fonz.

Right away, you notice the book’s traditional set-up. Each spread is one page of text (usually with a bit of spot art picked up from a tableau on the inside covers) and one page with a large illustration in a rectangle with a short caption underneath. These captions, drawn from the text on the opposite page, clarify exactly what you’re looking at, and provide a quaint feel. Lindman’s drawings have a classic Dick-and-Jane look, but are a little warmer, a little more colorful.

After Christmas, the girls and their trusty dog Mike go to visit Uncle Jon and Aunt Lisa. Now, if kids do notice that the book isn’t modern, we can squarely lay the blame on Uncle Jon. He picks the girls up from the train station in a horse-drawn sleigh. And then on the next page, he’s wearing an English flat cap, an ascot, and a pair of tweed knickers, for cryin’ out loud. Still, I think readers will conclude “oh well, that’s Sweden for you” and likely just assume that Uncle Jon is a bit of a dandy.

Jon leaves the girls at the nearby frozen pond, after warning them of thin ice by the far shore. (Foreshadowing!) They strap on their skates and get their Sonja Henie groove on. (OK, she was Norwegian, not Swedish, but I think I get partial credit for the allusion.) By this point I realized that Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka didn’t really have distinct personalities. It was actually refreshing. If this was a current U.S. book, one would be a brainiac, one would be a boy-magnet, and one would be comic relief. (Sorry to call you out on that, Modern Family.) Nope, this troika of blond-haired, blue-eyed future heartbreakers seem content in their sameness. Well, maybe Dicka is a little bossy. “Let’s play Follow the Leader,” she says. “I’ll be Leader.”

Their idyllic afternoon is interrupted by the arrival of Bertie, he of the blue sled, green overalls, and red poofball cap. No spoilers here, but we all know from It’s a Wonderful Life what happens when you mix rambunctious boys and thin ice.

When it comes time to save the day, our friend Flicka takes charge, and the other two immediately pitch in. (Again, no spoilers, but I question the level of medical care provided. Perhaps Swedish kids of a bygone era were made of hardier stuff, what with the harsh winters and all.)

Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and Their New Skates is a charmer. There are no sassy one-liners, no melodramatically misinterpreted text messages, and no magical hoo-ha. (Though you do get paper dolls of the girls and their skate outfits!) The book is just a gentle adventure with unforced lessons on looking out for others and showing appreciation. Which sounds like a pretty good Christmas gift to me.

Jack Silbert is a writer of children's books, restaurant reviews, witty essays, and the like. He lives in Hoboken, N.J.

No comments:

Post a Comment