Illustrator(s)
Martin Baltscheit
Publication date
September 2021
Publisher
Tammi
Format info
48 pp., Age 5+

The War of the Squirrels

Oravien sota

This picture book takes the child by the hand and leads them through the horrors of war towards hope and mutual understanding.

Two squirrel brothers live next door to each other in neighboring trees. Big brother’s tree grows more cones than he could possibly eat. His little brother’s tree yields a poorer harvest of cones, and during a particularly harsh winter, he runs out of food. The brothers get into a grim fight. The fight escalates into a war between all the squirrels in the forest. One brother is dressed in red, the other in white.

This animal fable tells the story of the Finnish Civil War of 1918. It shows how the relationship between the brothers turns sour. The bridge between their homes is destroyed and the trees where they live are felled. The big brother gets support from the Wolf. The Bear supports the little brother. Many lives are lost in the battles. When the war comes to an end, one of the brothers celebrates his victory, but everyone has suffered all the same.

It is up to the reader whether Riina Katajavuori and illustrator Martin Baltscheit tell about the fierce battle between the squirrel brothers or the Finnish Civil War of 1918. The book opens up the possibility of either reading the story purely as a fable or dealing with a civil war with a child through it. The work makes a universal and timeless topic accessible to children.

Prizes & nominations

2022, Nomination for the 2022 Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize
2021, Honorary diploma from The Finnish Book Art Committee as one of the most beautiful books of the year

Praise

“This animal fable tells the story of the Finnish Civil War of 1918.It bravely tackles a difficult subject – the civil war – which has rarely been dealt with in children’s literature. The War of the Squirrels is an excellent example of what a picture book at its best can achieve. It brings a painful subject closer to the reader and, using the methods of visual literature, it addresses a subject that it’s difficult to find words for and for which text or images on their own do not suffice.” (shortened) – Jury of Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize

A minor dispute that leads to a battle between squirrel brothers provides a universal picture of how conflicts develop. The graphic expression is strong, and in places, even scary. Alongside the characters, the limited colour palette strongly communicates the warlike story, and the interesting images create a tense mood. The spreads are delightfully varied, and the story can be followed like a movie. The book takes on a difficult subject from a new perspective and will give adults goosebumps – in a good way. – Jury of the Most Beautiful Book of the Year Prize

 “In the prevailing world situation, children’s literature speaks distinctly and with a voice that often stands on the side of democracy, refugee aid and inclusion. …the children’s books do not avoid the difficulties, on the contrary, it seeks them out. ….War of the Squirrels, which powerfully depicts the civil war…is an example of this willingness to treat the incomprehensible…” – HBL newspaper, Mia Österlund, also the chairman of the August Prize children’s book jury

“I knew with absolute certainty that I would never read a book about the Finnish Civil War to my son, a kindergartner. Yet as I scrutinized the children’s book authored by Riina Katajavuori and illustrated by Martin Baltscheit…I came to realize that it’s precisely this kind of book that I need to be able to teach how living beings can fall into wickedness, even toward those they’re close to. Yes, the story in this new release is frightening, but in a safe way. This book, which carries on the valuable tradition of the fable, shows that we are also capable of reconciliation – of peace, with others and ourselves.” – Antti Majander, Helsingin Sanomat newspaper

Reading material

Finnish Edition
Full English Translation