Överallt och ingenstans
(Everywhere and Nowhere)
by Oskar Kroon
illustrated by Joanna Hellgren
reviewed by Fiona Graham
If everyone goes to heaven when they die, how can there be enough room for them all? Do badgers killed on the road go to heaven too, and will Gran meet them up there some day? Do you have to wear boots to keep your feet dry in heaven, even though it’s above the rainclouds? Can a child travel back in time to the moment before she accidentally broke an old man’s prized glass owl? And if nobody sees that old man because he lives alone in the middle of a forest, how can we be sure he really exists? Is he perhaps like Schrödinger’s hypothetical cat in a sealed box – alive and dead (or indeed non-existent) at the same time?
These and other conundrums occupy the lively mind of young Sillen, the main character in Everywhere and Nowhere. The book follows her life from autumn to the New Year, during which time she breaks up with her best friend Nikolaj, loses her aged grandmother, and sees her bereaved father struggling with his grief. Friendship, a source of joy – and of pain when it founders – provides the main thread of the story. The misunderstanding between Sillen and Nikolaj, their separation, and their ultimate reconciliation, form the arc of the narrative.
The book’s other over-arching theme is nothing less than our place in the universe. Is a human being just a speck of dust (Sillen thinks her little brother Birger is), or does a self-respecting person have to be a hero (as Sillen styles herself when she has to help a scarily eccentric old backwoodsman)? What is the nature of death?
If these seem like serious issues in a story book for 6-9-year-olds, that is because they are. Death is a central theme in all three of Oskar Kroon’s books for children. Yet this story is so well crafted, with so many true-to-life, often funny vignettes, that the great existential questions are never oppressive. In an interview published in Dagens Nyheter in 2020, the author described a recurring technique: his stories bring together the smaller things in life (like headlice at school, or Sillen’s dad’s insistence on hoovering the flat at 8 o’clock on Saturday mornings) and the larger ones, such as quantum mechanics (the precocious Nikolaj’s hobby-horse).
This agreeably meandering chapter book lends itself well to reading aloud with a curious and intelligent child. It raises so many questions that the adult reader should come prepared for plenty of discussion: on life and death, what makes a good friend, how to be brave, whether there is any reason to feel guilty for missing an estranged friend more than your deceased Gran – and whether Schrödinger’s cat can be alive and dead at the same time. Challenging for the adult, perhaps, but Oskar Kroon (a father of two) thinks young children are not so easily fazed, since everything is new to them and every day full of questions.
Överallt och ingenstans
Foreign rights: Carin Bacho Carniani, Koja Agency.
Oskar Kroon made his debut as a children’s writer in 2018 with Mitt fönster mot rymden (My Window to Space) for 6-9-year-olds. Vänta på vind (Waiting for the Wind), for children aged 9-12, won the 2019 August Prize for Sweden’s best children’s book of the year.