“A Calf for Christmas” is a story set in Sweden about Johan and his family. Johan’s parents are poor farmers whose well-being is dependent on their cow Emma who is also Johan’s best friend. Tragedy strikes when Emma swallows a nail and dies, leaving the family devastated. Johan’s grief is unbearable. “The world is so unfair, thought Johan. No one helps poor people. Terrible things happen and no one cares, not even God”.
Johan finds himself feeling very angry with God, until one night when he is shovelling waist-high snow from the front steps of the house, he discovers a small calf stuck in the ditch at their farm. “Johan stood very still under the stars. A calf! God had thrown down a calf from heaven – there was no other explanation – a calf that would grow up and take Emma’s place”.
Johan’s Dad tries to explain to Johan that the calf didn’t belong to them, but someone else. However, Johan would not accept this fact. Find out what happens to Johan, the calf and the family when you read this great story.
“A Calf for Christmas” was written by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren (1907 – 2002) and illustrated by Swedish-Dutch artist Marit Tornqvist. As with all Lindgren’s books, this story’s message has multiple layers. It educates the reader to the harsh realities of daily life on a farm in Sweden, the divide between the rich and poor, the farmers’ traditions and favourite pass times. On the other hand, it tells a story of love, hope and faith in miracles – the eternal values that are celebrated at Christmas.
Children’s literature giant Astrid Lindgren needs no introduction, certainly not in the environment I was brought up in the former Soviet Union. No Soviet child I know of grew up without some exposure to Lindgren’s characters Pippi the Longstocking, Karlsson-on-the-Roof or Emil of Lonneberga. Today hundreds of Astrid Lindgren’s books are translated into more than 90 languages around the world. She is considered the fourth most translated children’s author of all time, following Enid Blyton, Hans Christian Andersen and Brothers Grimm. It is estimated that Lindgren’s books sold over 165 million copies worldwide.
Astrid Lindgren’s talent has been widely appreciated throughout her lifetime and in 1958 she was awarded Hans Christian Andresen Award (known as the little-Nobel prize in children’s literature). In 2002, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award was instituted by the Swedish Government in her memory. It is the largest annual monetary award today recognising achievements in children’s and youth literature by awarding 5 million Swedish kronor each year (approximately US$ 500,000 or A$800,000 in today’s rates). Astrid’s funeral was attended by the King and Queen of Sweden, other royal family and the country’s Prime Minister.
Marit Tornqvist, the illustrator of “A Calf for Christmas” met Astrid Lindgren when she was a young girl as her mother Rita Tornqvist translated Lindgren’s books into Dutch. Astrid visited the Tornqvists now and again. One such visit left a lasting impression on the 10-year-old Marit, when Astrid, aged 65 at the time, spent the whole afternoon jumping in the hay with the Tornqvist children.
Later, Marit studied illustration, and her final exam works were associated with Lindgren’s works, often based on her childhood memories and set in the province of Smaland, where Astrid grew up. Marit’s illustrations of the old farm buildings of Smaland, the cows, the forests and meadows all fit Adstrid’s stories like a glove.
By the time Marit finished her studies, Astrid did not write anything new, so her publisher asked Marit to read all Lindgren’s stories and select one of them for a picture book. “A Calf for Christmas” thus came into being in 1989 and within a month of being published sold 30,000 copies. Several other picture books based on Lindgren’s texts were created following the success of “A Calf for Christmas” and a close friendship developed between Astrid Lindgren and Marit Tornqvist. 
In 2020 Marit was the recepient of the IBBY-iRead Outstanding Reading Promoter Award. In her acceptance speeach she spoke about her work outside of being writer and illustrator:
I began to travel for my work. From Burundi to Iran, from Turkey to Kenya, from Aruba and Curaçao to Suriname. I discovered the endless possibilities that stories offer for starting conversations with children, for drawing with them and writing with them. I didn’t assume that every child was a reader, but I did know for sure that every child loves stories. And that every child has stories within them that want to be told. That was why I quietly started coming up with one project after another that made children reach for books. To relax, to understand one another better, to learn, to disappear into a different world and to connect with other people.
I have seen a great deal over the years. Children who have fled wars, children living in the slums of Tehran, children working in factories, and children who had barely survived an earthquake and were living in tents… With 82.4 million people who have been forcibly displaced, a world of increasing polarisation and so much fear of others, of the unknown books have never been more important than they are today. 
In recent years, one of the projects that Marit was involved in has seen her mentoring a number of incredible young Iranian illustrators as part of the “Read with Me” initiative for the Iranian Institute for Research on the History of Children’s Literature. You can see the artists she has mentored here in my book list “Exploring the Vibrant World of Iranian Children’s Books” and in my review of “18+2 Woodpeckers”, one of the “Read with Me” picture books that Marit acted as Art Director on.
“A Calf for Christmas” book has been selected as their prize by one of our readers who participated in the 2020 Christmas Books Advent reviews & Giveaways. It was my absolute pleasure to mail it to the US to a family with 5 gorgeous kids!
For other great Christmas and winter-themed books click here.
I would love a copy of this book. Marit Tornqvist is a hero! Thanks for posting such a great post, looking forward to reading all the other advent posts! Merry Christmas! 🙂
Thanks for your interest Bethie! This is a great book and I hope it comes your way this Christmas 🙂
This story is a discovery for me )
I didn’t know this story growing up too, Masha. Have only just discovered it a few years ago when looking for new books for our Christmas books box. This is strange for the Russian publishing market isn’t it? I thought that they’ve translated everything that Astrid Lindgren has ever penned.