Bonnier Carlsen, 2014.
Reviewed by Nichola Smalley in SBR 2015:1
Review Section: Children's Fiction
A is for ape, and B is for a bonobo ape named Bobo. Bobo is the star of Malte Persson’s wonderful Bildungsroman – the tale of a young ape encountering the bonobo educational system for the first time. During his first spelling lesson, in which he and his fellow pupils get to grips with the vagaries of the letter A, he finds he has a passion for language not shared by the others in his class. Finding his teacher and family unable to provide him with answers to his questions about the letter B, he sets out to discover more. Will Brynolf the Baboon be able to teach him what others cannot? Will things be more Civilised at the library, as he sets out to learn all of C’s intricacies?
In his second book for children, Persson’s irreverence sets the tone, creating a vivid, if occasionally haphazard, tale. The playfulness thinly veils a more serious message – the lack of status afforded to education and learning in modern society. The under-resourced library, full of book-chewing ants and staffed only by a lone, ancient ape, is a sideways jab at recent austerity politics and their impact on cultural life in Sweden and indeed across Europe. At times, Persson’s political message is a little unsubtle, but the straightforwardness with which Bobo’s experiences unfold is something many children will enjoy, especially when it is combined with delights such as alliterative passages and songs. Best known as a poet, Persson is unafraid to use complex language and concepts with little explanation, a refreshing and unusual quality in a writer for children. It’s exciting to find a book that unapologetically engages children in this way; whether reading with adults or alone, I’m sure many young humans will be inspired by this young ape’s voyage of discovery.