Literature Review: Tiny Books

Līga Horgana is back with a literature review of the Tiny Books from Baltic Authors project, a collaboration between eighteen different authors and eighteen illustrators from the Baltic states translated into a number of different languages.

The "Tiny Book" is exactly as big as one A4 sheet folded the right way into an actual little book that tells one colourfully illustrated and thoughtful story about life and relationships. In the 2021, a group of artists from all three Baltic states joined into the Tiny Books from Baltic Authors project and created 18 works – completely new tales about human rights issues in the modern society such as “equality, cultural diversity, disabilities, gender roles, ageism, and freedom of speech.” All are accessible for free download at not only in Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian, but also translated into English and a number of other languages. 

When a sheet is properly folded the right way into 8 equal parts, it becomes a real “tiny book” with a front cover that shows the title and authors, back cover with authorship information and logos of supporting organisations, and three spreads of text and illustrations. Since the format is so small, the amount of words included is very limited. Therefore, the writers had to be quite creative choosing the ways to tell their stories, and illustrations play a key role. Some of the works are made as comics, and a lot of them have short descriptions and use direct speech. 

Since it features collaborations by 18 writers and 18 illustrators from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, the “Tiny Book” project gives quite good insight into Baltic children’s literature. It has also been a good opportunity for creative cooperation between artists from the Baltic states since each story is created by people from two different countries.

This is a neat way to promote children’s interest in literature and reading. "If you can print our book out on an A4 sheet and cut it as you need, and it is a real book, then why can't you take one of the same pages and make your own story?" asks one of the writers Lauris Gundars. I personally tried it and it worked out well. However, my 2- and 3-year-old daughters were still a bit too young to create their own works so I will just tell about our favourite ones. 

I absolutely loved The Arms You’re Born In by Rasa Bugavičute-Pēce (Latvia) and k2rte (Estonia) – a story told by a boy whose dad is a midwife. In such a short format, work each of the three spreads surprised me a lot by giving an unexpected material to think about and at the end gets summarised: “I can’t imagine better hands to start this life in – big, strong, and full of stories [referring to the tattoos on his arms].”

The other one I enjoyed as much as this one was The Nose by Paulius Norvila (Lithuania) and Olga Skomorokhova (Estonia). The rhythmic poem tells about a big angry nose that appears from a stormy cloud and starts criticising all of the boy’s favourite toys, saying that his frog is fat and slow, the bear is absurdly pink and the lion square shaped. The boy does not get scared, and defends his toys.

The work we read most often, however, is my daughter’s favorite: Quiet Waters by Agnese Vanaga (Latvia) and Gerda Märtens (Estonia). It is a comic about citizens of the “Fish Republic”, whose attempts to communicate with humans have failed already for many years. Therefore, they conclude that people have lost their hearing and the contact should be made by using sign language. Quiet Waters also has my favourite illustrations. They stand out with their bright colours and many precise details.

Another one that my daughter likes and that we read almost as often is by Marius Marcinkevičius (Lithuania) and Anna Vaivare (Latvia) — Believe You Can Fly. It tells the story of a 12-year-old American girl named Sabrina Pasterski who in 2007 built her own airplane and flew in it.

The website mentions that these books are for children from 6 to 10 years old; however, it is probably impossible to set any kind of age limitations, and younger kids will also definitely enjoy the magic of these tiny books the way my two toddlers do. Another group of readers who would want to check out this project is those interested in Baltic children’s literature. Each of these 18 stories is a sample of work by one artist and one writer, and additional material can be found on the project webpage in the form of downloadable PDFs with information about all participants including, their education, careers, how to contact them, etc. So if you are looking for an easy overview to the world of Baltic children’s literature, this could be a great start for you!

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