Thematic expansion in the 1980s

Children’s literature of the 1980s is characterised by thematic expansion: an attempt to tackle various aspects of life, a yearning for the past and resistance to the Russification policy that strengthened towards the end of the decade. The child of this era lives in town, and books published in the early 1980s describe harmonious family life (as in Ellen Niit’s “Stories about Triinu and Taavi” [Triinu ja Taavi lood]). The main character tends to be a child sitting at home alone, letting his or her imagination roam freely. Children do not get full attention from their parents, and the playful mood (communicating with invented characters) attempts to satisfy the need. Rein Saluri’s “How” (Kuidas, 1977) describes girls at home on their own, coping on a daily basis with fearful noises from the corridor and the flats, messages from the radio, pictures seen on television and so on. As well as young children, a new character emerges in the prose of the period: a sensitive teenager who reflects and philosophises.

Stories about children beset by worries also begin to appear in children’s prose, with the authors examining their characters’ psyches. Mihkel Mutt’s “Father Frost” (Näärivana, 1986) explores the splitting of the family through a child’s eyes. Leelo Tungal’s “The Summer of a Colourful Butterfly” (Kirju liblika suvi, 1986) depicts a girl whose mother is an alcoholic. “Hannes’s Birthday” (Hannese sünnipäev, 1986), by Meri-Liis Laherand, tells of a boy living with his alcoholic grandmother and ending up in a children’s home. The authors often show a child taking his or her problems to school, then, much intensified, back home again. School seems unable to help children in any way. In books published in the 1930s and 1950s, a teacher noticed a child with problems and singled him out; they talked it through and tried to find a solution. In modern times, this is no longer the case.

Concern about the survival of the Estonian nation led to books that promote ancient customs, traditions, folklore and ethnography, stress the national way of life and maintain historic memories. Heino Jõgisalu’s “Home-Baked Bread” (Maaleib, 1985) takes a look, through the eyes of children, at the daily life and work of fishermen on the small island of Kihnu. In such relatively remote places, the old customs and way of life had survived better than elsewhere in Estonia. Tiia Toomet’s “Stories of Old” (Vana aja lood, 1983) describes children’s lives in the recent past. The book was well received by the middle-aged, as they recognised the toys, sweets, ice-creams, games and environment of their own childhood. In the 1980s, more depictions of childhood were published than before (or after).

In children’s poetry, Hando Runnel’s collections, in particular “Thinking is Fun” (Mõtelda on mõnus, 1982), were a breath of fresh air. Ott Arder’s verbal dexterity enabled him to create jolly and at the same time complex verse. Leelo Tungal achieved warm, natural contact with her readers. A collection by Viivi Luik, “Indoor Children” (Tubased lapsed), expressed critical opinions about children and parents. Lehte Hainsalu wrote serious poems on educational and social topics. Children’s poetry emerged from the narrow confines of a playground and tackled more serious and diverse issues.

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