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Åka buss Henrik Wallnäs and Matilda Ruta, Åka buss (On the Bus)

Natur & Kultur,  2016.

Reviewed by Charlotte Berry in SBR 2016:1

Review Section: YA and Children's Fiction

This picture book is the debut of Malmö author Henrik Wallnäs and is based on the experiences of his wife when fleeing from war-torn Yugoslavia. The story follows a kitten-child, her toy rabbit and her mother as they leave the father and grandmother to take a long and terrifying journey to an unknown destination and new life. A clever double-spread montage on both sets of end papers in the form of a ribbon map shows the path of the bus making its slow way through fires and bombs onto a ferry and eventually to a new land, home and school.

The main text is written from the limited perspective of the kitten-child. She takes comfort from the smell of her grandmother’s hair on her toy rabbit, but cannot understand why her mother no longer laughs. Her father will come later, but has to stay behind now to repair holes in roofs. The days, nights and seasons pass, and still they wait for her father.

The book is boldly illustrated by Matilda Ruta, an author and graphic artist perhaps best known for her collaboration with author Sofia Nordin on Mirja och pojken i det rosa huset (Mirja and the Boy in the Pink House, 2012). The cover’s strident grey and black hues belie the volume’s intensely vibrant and diverse palette, where colour adds an essential extra dimension to the narrative. Strong oranges and reds clash with black and green for the perilous initial part of the journey past barbed wire, tanks, fires, fighter jets and soldiers. Joyful purples and blues dominate the second phase of the journey, the sea crossing, with its gloriously calm starry skies and tranquil moon. These colours contrast starkly with the washed-out white and yellow of the hostel and the endless waiting in Sweden, finally blazing into a joyous orange at the moment of reunion with the child’s father.

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