'Norwegian Folk Tales of Anthon and Gurina Johnson': New children's book retells Norwegian tales

Penny Follows Frischkorn illustration
Penny Follows Frischkorn illustration

Jean Russell Larson grew up hearing wonderful folk tales from her Norwegian grandmother.

Carrying on the tradition, Larson later shared the stories with her eight children. They referred to the stories as “chimney corner tales,” given that the corner fireplace was where family members gathered to hear the stories.

Now, Larson has taken tradition further by gathering the stories together in a new storybook collection for children called “Norwegian Folk Tales of Anthon and Gurina Johnson.”

“I enjoy working with material that represents continuity and has links to storytellers and readers of the past and connects them to the present and the future,” says Larson of Marshalltown.

The eight stories feature tales of maidens and misers, of smelly old goats, and greedy princes, with the requisite cautionary tales for young listeners. Larson hopes readers enjoy the stories and they strike a chord. “Writing, to me, is a form of conversation between an author and the reader,” Larson says.

A noted folklorist, Larson first made her splash in the publishing world with “Palace in Baghdad” in 1966. She has since written five more books for young readers and numerous stories for children’s magazines. She has received a Notable Book Award from the American Library Association and a Lewis Carroll Shelf Award from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education.

Over the years, Larson’s books have found settings all over the world, including Arabia, India and China. But she is particularly proud of this latest book and its connection to home. “This collection of folk tales is my contribution to the Iowa story,” she says. “I am a sixth-generation Iowan and very proud of that fact. And the retelling of these tales in my style is a response to me hearing Iowa referred to as ‘flyover country’ once too often.”

Larson says the stories were brought to Iowa from Norway by her great-great grandparents, Anthon and Gurina Johnson, hence the book’s name.

Of course Larson enjoys all of the stories, but the goat from “Everything has its Place” is a favorite character. “He is loyal and caring and is at the center of all of the action. Not bad for a goat.”

Illustrator Penny Follows Frischkorn of Cedar Rapids agrees. “I was drawn to the goat from the start when I used that story for the front and back covers,” she says. “He is quite compassionate with some very good ideas, and the story is wonderful.”

This was Frischkorn’s first book of illustrations and she said she enjoyed working with Larson.

“She was very supportive and flexible in allowing me to create these characters on paper.”

Both say there is much to enjoy about the collection.

“I think readers will enjoy discovering the characters in each story,” says Frischkorn. “The human and animal characters alike are described in a very engaging way and the stories come to life on the pages.”

“Norwegian Folk Tales of Anthon and Gurina Johnson” is published by Penfield Books. It is available at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, NewBo Books in Cedar Rapids and online at Amazon.

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