Hattie is six and has been waiting forever for school to start.
Interestingly, I picked up this novel, first published in Sweden in 2005, at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown when many a young pupil was itching to get back into their own classroom. Hattie however, an only child living on the edge of nowhere with just a dog and two outdoor cats for company, has never set foot in a real classroom and can't wait to exchange her wild, gloriously unstructured days spent among her mother's flowerbeds for the adventure of cutting and pasting and forming friendships.
Having survived the bus ride to school, Hattie attempts friendship with Linda, a girl with little blue eyes and a disposition so timid, Hattie initially mistakes her for a stuck-up angry girl instead of the sweet little princess she really is. Linda's cautious but caring personality is the perfect counterfoil to Hattie's torrent of unregulated candour and cheek. Barely a moment passes that Hattie isn't in some sort of trouble for a mischief that's invariably executed with the shameless conviction of a six-year-old who is almost seven. Hattie defends her actions with the guileless sincerity of a puppy who's eaten your shoe. Her misdemeanours are hilarious.
That's what I love about Hattie the most, and there is much to love about this loud-talking, large-hearted, scamp of a girl. Her spirit blinds you with its brilliance. Humour bubbles through every candid utterance and through every artless thought until your tummy wobbles with mirth. It is hard to overlook Hattie's many transgressions; she is quite devious and cunning but it is equally easy to forgive her. Her actions portray those of children her age with astonishing accuracy. At times it's hard to know whether to laugh or cry with her.
Not everybody who meets her likes Hattie, especially some of the adults in her life. She is far too obvious and insistent. She tests their patience and disorientates their sense of ease. Yet it is her relentless drive to give and learn and live that pulls you ever closer to loving her absolutely.
Frida Nilsson's masterful portrayal of a primary-schooler in their prime is both funny and poignantly on point. Hattie's tale tumbles out faster than even she can think it; mimicking the typical overenthusiastic regaling of even the most banal of events by a youngster keen to share. So too are the exact emotions of one so young mirrored in perfect voice.
This translated edition of the first of Hattie's stories about her first year of school is more than a heart-warming tale of a girl starting school. It is an exuberant foray into the heart of a little girl whose own might burst from looking forward to life so much; an inclination we should all try to experience more often.
Author: Frida Nilsson
Illustrator: Stina Wirsen
Translation: Julia Marshall
Publisher: Gecko Press, $16.99
Publication Date: March 2020
For ages: 6+
Type: Junior Fiction / Chapter Book
Buy the Book: Gecko Press, Boomerang Books, Booktopia