Thursday, July 19, 2012

Peter Pedal, Holger and Unusual Children's Book Covers

Danish children grow up with many of the same storybook characters that children in the U.S. know and love. However, because names are different here, it is common practice to rename characters for the Danish versions. My favorite, because it is so incredibly different from Waldo, is Holger.

To me, calling my red and white striped friend Waldo by the name Holger seems so wrong. And yet, kind of hilarious.

Another good one is the name for Curious George which is Peter Pedal. For those of you who are curious, Pedal does not mean curious in Danish. Nysgerrig is, apparently the Danish word for curious.

 During a trip to the children's section at the library I came across the following children's books that both represent how progressive Danish culture is and how not politically correct it is in other ways. Have a look:

The above book is called "Littlered Has Two Mothers". I saw this and thought, "How fantastic that this book is boldly on display in the public library, we need more books like this in the United States."

And then, the decidedly less PC "The Day Mother Was an Indian":

As someone who grew up in the American Southwest, I immediately feel sensitive when people dress up as Native Americans. I have heard that in the schools here, they have "Dress as an Indian Day" and people paint their faces red. This is strange and I think it stems from a fascination with Native American culture and a lot of exposure to American movies and culture, not from anything malicious or intentionally racist. In my search for answers about the Danish fascination with Native Americans, I found a website addressing mock Native American pow wows held in Denmark that makes me feel a bit more ok about the above book... maybe? Read it and decide for yourself. The Danes who put on pow wows are very interesting and clearly not ill-intended. But as a native New Mexican, the whole thing seems bizarre.

Not being able to sit down and really read these books with much comprehension gives me a narrow cultural lens to view them through. It has been a challenge during my time here, for sure. Not knowing the language allows me to read things into book covers, or newspaper covers that might not be there at all. I have enjoyed realizing how many of my assumptions about things come from my cultural background and how often these assumptions are completely inaccurate since I am not in my own culture. I still have lots to learn and continue to grow in new ways through my time living abroad.


  1. Great post Jodi, I really enjoyed that. But you forgot to mention my favorite -- Anders And for Donald Duck!

    I've also noticed reading all these children's stories to Eva how different the names are and have wondered whether they have the same connotations in Danish. Did you know, for example, that the Danish version of Cinderella is "Askepot"? To me, that doesn't even make sense. "Cinderella" sounds so beautiful, but Askepot literally translates as "ash pot." I'm like, what?

    Many of the other Brothers Grimm stories use the same names in English, Danish and the original German, such as Hansel and Gretel for example. So that's interesting too.

    BTW, when it comes to dressing up like a Native American, I remember doing that in elementary school as well (in the U.S.). For Thanksgiving, we would make pilgrim hats and Indian headdresses out of paper and sit around in a circle to eat a Thanksgiving meal.. That was back in the 80s though, so I don't know if they still do that or not.

    - Nat

  2. Excellent post. Great insight and openness to another culture. Respectfully written as one who stands outside a culture while living in that culture.
    Cheryl Ann

  3. Interesting comment about Cinderella. In german, she's known as Aschenputtel, and her namesake is that she slept near the ashes of the hearth (warmest place in the house if you weren't entitled to a bed). The name Cinderella is probably derived from the french Cindrillon in a collection of short stories by Perrault. Perrault, like the brothers Grimm, was very successful in putting many of the folktales into print.

    For the Scandinavian stories I always liked the adventures of Nils Holgerson and the books illustrated by John Bauer or anything about Tomten.

    1. Thanks for the edification on Cinderella and Askepot, that makes a bit more sense now. I'll have to check out these Nils Holgerson and John Bauer stories you mention..

  4. Oops, actually its Eric who posted above...