Originally written and illustrated in 1948 by Ingri & Edgar Parin d’Aulaire, Nils is a children’s book in its first reprinting by the University of Minnesota Press. More than seventy years later, Nils remains a colorful and whimsical tale warmed by the affirming message at its heart.
“He was going to be a cowboy when he grew up,” says the opening page of Nils of its titular character. A young boy of Norwegian immigrants, Nils’ days are filled with adventures in the woods and presents from his grandmother in Norway, who sends him beautiful stockings. However, these pretty stockings challenges Nils’ perceptions of what toughness and cowboy-hood look like, and as he navigates what it means to be true to himself and his culture, Nils learns that his individuality is his greatest strength.
Thoughat times dated (Nils’ jacket contains a disclaimer that “some of the language and attitudes expressed in the text are not appropriate today”), the core message of the book is still relevant to new readers. Boys in Nils’ school tease him for his stockings and his heritage, saying “He’s a baby, he’s a girl. He is different.” It is these traps of peer pressure and fear of being ostracized for being different—or for being from another culture — that Nils is unafraid to investigate. Illustrations in both black and white as well as color lend the story a timeless feel that layers charm and whimsy over its themes.
It is not hard to imagine why Nils’ message is still needed today. Clear-headed and gorgeous to look at, Nils is sure to please as a bedtime story that kids will keep asking for.