The Child in the Forest. Performing the Child in 20th Century Swedish Picture Books

Camilla Brudin Borg, Margaretha Ullström


This article investigates how the child is performed in the forest, or in relation to the forest, in Swedish picture books of the 20th century. Using an ecocritical approach, we lay bare themes, motifs and tendencies that indicate a changing relationship with the forest during the course of the century. While the child is dependent on the forest – but also very knowledgeable about it – at the beginning of the twentieth century, she is increasingly depicted as being cut off from her former natural environment as the century proceeds. Gradually, the idea of the child as a guest in the forest replaces the idea of man and nature being part of a whole, a theme that clearly reflects growing levels of alienation during the twentieth century. Of particular interest is that this alienation and »guest theme« first arises in environmentalist and didactic picture books from the 1950s onward, and especially during the 1970s. During this period, the child was supposed to be educated to take care of the forest and is thus required to conceive of herself as a guest paying the natural environment a brief visit. The feeling of being part of a whole, that is, of nature, starts to disappear. Some picture books from the late twentieth century try to question man’s alienation from the forest and offer an alternative to man’s domination of nature.

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