Smoking, cannibalism and murder for children – a book review



I am about to commit blasphemy against my Danish cultural heritage. After publishing this post I may never be able to return to my country.

 Halfdans ABC, written by Halfdan Rasmussen, is a true classic.  Every respectable Danish home has it on their bookshelf, so ordering a new copy for my storytime-obsessed 2-year-old was pretty exciting; Amazon weren’t just delivering a book, they were delivering some happy childhood memories for me to pass on.  As you might expect from a book called Halfdans ABC, it’s about the letters of the alphabet and it has a wonderful little verse for each letter with delicious rhymes and alliteration, and it’s just… wonderful! That’s how I remember it, anyway.

 However, my childhood memories are clearly lying to me because “wonderful” was not at all what I thought when I flicked through the book for the first time in 25 years. What went through my head was more like “What the hell is this and how can I keep it away from my daughter?”


It started out ok. This is the first page with the letter A. “Ah, yes”, I thought. “I remember this one. This is lovely. Ane put anemones in the cannon at Trekroner. At the very first shot, all of Anes anemones bloomed”. Beautiful.


But then I turned the page and immediately started to feel a little uneasy. I do vaguely remember this one but as a child I just thought it was funny. But this is not funny. The boy’s trousers are on fire! He is going to get severely burned on the bottom and, if it isn’t put out quickly, he’ll probably get burned all over.  That bucket of water is nowhere near enough – he’s going to need immediate medical treatment.

Moving on to the letter C. In the Danish alphabet, the letter C follows the letter B, but I can’t explain what else was going through Halfdan’s mind here. He has already come up with great word beginning with C, which is “citron”. He could have just written a nice verse about lemons. But no, why not throw in another great word beginning with C, like …cigar! Yes, great idea! Those kids might as well learn about smoking now, they’ll all be doing it sooner or later.


For the letter E Halfdan has written a tragic little verse about an obese woman named Else. Else loves sausages and she loves fur coats. Even though she is too fat for this coat she continues to eat sausages until one day she bursts. Luckily the fur coat stays intact. Wonderful.


G is for “gris”, which means pig. The goose has invited her piggy friends over for a nice Christmas dinner. We don’t know whether the goose is playing a really mean practical joke of if she has just forgotten that pigs don’t really appreciate being served the traditional Danish Christmas dinner of roast pork. I wonder if I’m the only one who thinks it would have been nice if Halfdan could have come up with something about pigs in a children’s book that didn’t involve cannibalism.


For the letter I Halfdan has decided to write a little rhyme about Ireland and Irish people. For reasons beyond my comprehension, Irish people are being portrayed as dwarfs who play the harp, drink beer and sleep in thimbles. I have a feeling that Halfdan has never actually met an Irish person.


The picture for the letter K speaks for itself really. But just to assure you that this is exactly what it looks like, here is a translation of the rhyme: “The cannon king, Knold, who was mad as a troll, bought cannonballs and gunpowder for a crown. Put a mighty portion in his big cannon and shot the head and hat off his wife.”

The book is from 1967, so I should probably be a bit more forgiving. Times were different back then. Shooting your wife with a cannon was probably normal. Halfdan Rasmussen has won numerous literary awards AND he was a resistance fighter during the German Occupation (that’s WW2 to the rest of the world). But I’m sorry – Halfdans ABC is a dreadful book! The illustrations make me nauseous and apart from being completely inappropriate for children, none of it makes any sense. It’s rubbish, I hate it and I never want to read it to my daughter again.

There, I’ve said it. Great Britain, I’m here to stay.