[review] Anneli Kanto
: Vilma Virtanen as Easter Witch

Anneli Kanto
Vilma Virtanen virpomassa (Viisi villiä Virtasta 9)
Vilma Virtanen as Easter Witch (Five Wild Virtanen Children, part 9)
Illustrated by Noora Katto
Karisto 2017
ISBN 978-951-23-6244-8

Vilma Virtanen as Easter Witch is the ninth picture book recounting the every-day life of the Virtanen family. This time, the Virtanen children are preparing themselves for Easter. Books about Easter traditions aren’t common in Finland, and books that represent typically Finnish Easter customs outside Christian mythology are even more uncommon. However, there is a demand for such books because the Finnish Easter traditions differ from those shown in books just translated into Finnish.

vilma_virpomassa_kp

In this book, prevalence is given to children-related Easter tradition of virpominen that combines Russian Orthodox ritual (in which birch twigs originally represented the palms laid down when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday); and a Swedish and Western Finnish tradition in which children make fun of ancient Fenno-Ugrian beliefs. According to those beliefs witches move around people’s dwellings on Easter Saturday. The children dress up, usually as witches.

The text covers various Easter-related themes, all from the point of view of a family with small children. The family goes to collect the willow twigs at the last moment. It’s pouring down with a mixture of snow and water, räntä. The next step is to decorate the twigs, but the children struggle to make them pretty and they end up quarrelling. Vilma is a shy girl and finds it intimidating to go from door to door and virpoa, which means presenting the decorated willow twig with a traditional, rhymed blessing to the people in the house in exchange for sweets. In the end, virpominen goes well, and Vilma keeps her shyness in check.

Vilma Virtanen as Easter Witch illuminates the secularised and otherwise altered Easter traditions. It does not mention the religious background and mixes western and eastern Finnish customs, which probably will upset some readers. On the other hand, most parents, day-care and school teachers will be delighted to have a book that discusses the Easter traditions and blends willow twigs, Easter eggs and witch outfits into the same holiday. It’s about time we had a book for these families. Vilma Virtanen also offers a chance to contrast the reader’s family’s own Easter traditions with those of the Virtanen family.

This book is especially rewarding for children and adults who find socializing with strangers unpleasant. Vilma and other children face many terrifying and embarrassing situations and meet a variety of neighbours, like an angry old woman and a lady who gives Vilma’s little brother Perttu a very small Easter egg, leaving Perttu feeling disappointed. The storyline offers many opportunities for parents to discuss fear provoking and worrying situations.

Illustrator Noora Katto excels in visualizing Easter decorations and eggs, bunnies and willow twigs. She also depicts a nauseated young man opening the door for little virpojat – something that is most likely to happen at some point when going from door to door – but leaves the reason for the young man’s malaise a mystery. The reader can decide how much he or she wants to explain to the children. Perhaps it is possible to eat too many chocolate eggs after all!

Paula Niemi

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