Moominpappa at Sea by a Swedish-speaking Finnish novelist, painter, illustrator and comic strip author Tove Jansson http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuroi_Senji (NY: Henry Z. Walck, 1967) is a charming story about a family of trolls that look like hippopotamus and the opinionated Little My, a little girl with human appearance who is adopted.
Their home is in Moomin Valley where fire is a serious danger during their dry summers but perhaps the only large-scale phenomenon, the threat of which gives life a sense of drama. Moonminpappa is visibly bored with his humdrum life where all the answers to the big questions have been figured out.
At the end of the summer, when the evening starts to set early, Moominmamma lights a lamp. As the family members gather for dinner, which consists of tea and various sandwiches starting out with cheese, followed by sausage meat (which Little My skips), potato and sardines, and marmalade last, the readers learn that there is another character in the story, the Groke whom everybody is afraid of and avoids. She is very cold, doesn’t like anybody, and wherever she sits for a long time, the ground freezes and the grass turns brown. At the end of the summer when the lamp is lit, the lamplight shining through the window attracts her to the house every evening.
Inside the house, a big map hangs on the wall, and the readers learn that Moominpappa has an island and they’re moving into the lighthouse there. When they set off sail, however, Groke notices and follows them floating on ice that forms underneath her as she steps into the ocean. On the island, various problems arise which Moominpappa must solve, first of which is to find the key to the lighthouse so that the family can move in and start a new life. Once this is accomplished, the light of the lighthouse must be fixed but Moominpappa has no idea how to start. As for Moominmamma, starting a new garden involves finding ways to get topsoil for her rocky garden space. Their son Moomintroll meets and tries to befriend a seahorse with a golden mane, somewhat evocative of the long-legged California girls on the beach who are busy playing with their friends and not at all interested in the pale new boy on the block. Moonmintroll who spends a lot of his time on the seashore is the first to find out about Groke being on the island and tries to keep her happy by going down to the beach every night with the lamp so that she doesn’t come any nearer to his family. Little My tries to befriend the mysterious fisherman whose identity and cooperation is the key to the big puzzle of life on the island the family must solve.
This story is suitable for intermediate EFL and ESL students due to the simplicity of the plot and the ease of identification with things described in the story such as the sea, garden, light house, horses, cliff and ledges, glades, fisherman, boat, lamp, rope, puzzles, etc. The length (192 pages) is also good for this type of readers. There are no objectionable language in the text and the fairly simple yet precise use of vocabulary combines for a poetic and creative descriptive passages which should benefit independent readers of all ages starting around 4th grade all the way up to 9th grade or even 10th grade. It should also be enjoyable for parents to read aloud to their younger children as a bedtime story starting in 1st or 2nd grade.