New quality

The early 1960s saw a new quality introduced to children’s writing. In 1959, Vladimir Beekmann published Aatomik (“Little Atom”), with nuclear energy depicted as a small boy who has the power to accomplish great deeds. Eno Raud’s Sipsik (Raggie) appeared in 1962 and became instantly popular, inspiring other stories about toys that come to life. Robert Vaidlo invented a town in a drawing book, with wonderful characters who were either drawn or lived on the child’s desk or in the toy box. The 1970s saw Iko Maran’s Londiste, õige nimega Vant (Trunky the Elephant), about a child and his talking toy elephant; Eno Raud’s Naksitrallid I-IV (“Three Jolly Fellows”, 1972-82), about three mannequins who value balance in nature; and Aino Pervik’s Kunksmoor (Old Mother Kunks, 1973), about an old witch who cures everything with plants. Pervik would later write “Arabella, the Pirate’s Daughter” (Arabella, mereröövli tütar, 1982) and “Bog Bogey and Lizard” (Sookoll ja sisalik, 1986).

Contemporary fairy tales told children about good and evil, relations between power and spirit, clashes between stupidity and wisdom, roots and memory, as well as the importance of conserving nature. The 1970s fairy-tale boom waned over the next decade, however, with nothing written that equalled the previous best books. The genre is again prevailing in children’s literature today.

The 1960s witnessed changes also in children’s poetry. Warmth and playfulness had begun to appear in the late 1950s. Children’s poetry was mainly aimed at preschool and younger schoolchildren, and was dominated by “flowers and butterflies” fairy tales. This made children’s poetry user-friendly, but at the same time acceptable only for a limited readership. This was, of course, true only of “background” poetry, not of the very best.

At the vanguard of the realist trend was Manivald Kesamaa. In the early 1970s, Ellen Niit published a splendid collection, “The Day of Open Doors” (Lahtiste uste päev, 1970), and a superlative verse story, “The Great Painting” (Suur maalritöö, 1971). These witty, multi-layered verses, in rich Estonian, also contain a message for adults.

Hando Runnel emerged as a children’s poet in the 1970s, having previously written for adults. Collections such as “Why and Why” (Miks ja miks, 1973) and “By the Sea, Behind the Forest” (Mere ääres, metsa taga, 1977) brought a new depth and imaginative richness to the medium: the poet often used free verse instead of end rhymes, cultivating rhythm and seemingly senseless repetition. Instead of narrating, Runnel creates mood by means of images; he often uses poetic form taken from folk verses; his message is frequently conveyed by not saying rather than saying; and in his poetry for young and old, he promotes national ideas. Wordplay typical of small children was the basis of Paul-Eerik Rummo’s “Primer” (Lugemik, lugemiki). Leelo Tungal wrote humorous poems from the point of view of children.

Despite some excellent books, the general level of children’s literature remained modest. The aim of most smooth, easy verses was to entertain children rather than encourage them to think.

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