________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 8. . . October 27, 2017


My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts. (National Film Board of Canada Collection).

Torill Kove.
Richmond Hill, ON: Firefly Books, 2017.
32 pp., hardcover, $16.95.
ISBN 978-1-77085-967-8.

Subject Headings:
Grandmothers-Juvenile fiction.
Laundresses-Juvenile fiction.
World War, 1939-1945-Underground movements-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.

Review by Reesa Cohen.

**** /4



In 1905, Norway became an independent country. A referendum was held to determine if the country should have a president or a king. The people voted and decided that Norway would have its own King.


Kove, the creator of this lively story, loosely based this intriguing tale on many real facts in Norway’s 20th century history. She continues to explain the process of how Norway chose a king. Even more importantly, she weaves an anecdote, one of many, told by her grandmother, Aslang Bech, highlighting her unique role in historical events. The new King Carl and Queen Maud are shown in humorous fashion, making every effort to adjust to life in Norway, but they lacked the skills to iron. Obviously told with great pride, Kove retells this family chronicle of her grandmother who worked ironing shirts at Hoff, a local clothing shop. When she discovers a monogram on some shirts, she realizes, after some sleuthing and research, that she is ironing the shirts of King Haakon VII, the very first monarch of Norway. How wonderful that she was now the official royal shirt presser!

     As the episode continues, the King goes into exile at the outbreak of World War II, to fight the war from abroad, and he encourages his countrymen to resist.

The Germans chased after the King and insisted that he surrender.

But he said NO, he would never surrender! and he meant No!

All over the country, people shouted, Long Live the King who says No!” Everybody except my grandmother who said, “Nice shirt.”

     During the Nazi occupation of Norway, Aslang Bech has the brilliant idea to help with the resistance by mobilizing others working in the laundry to ruin the German uniforms, an act which became “ a nationwide shirt sabotage”. According to Tove’s witty tale, this “severe and devastating” treachery results in no usable uniforms for the enemy by the spring of 1945, and the near-naked occupiers were happy to leave!

     When the King returns after the war, he honors these laundresses for their war effort. Aslang Bech retires in the 1960’s, thoroughly disapproving of the state of fashion, and she spends her time tending to her elegant husband, who, it seems, has stories to tell of his own.

     This reviewer certainly hopes there is another insightful family tale to tell.

     The simply delightful book replicates the actual NFB 2000 Oscar nominated animated short. Starting with a photo of her grandmother, Kove ingeniously interweaves her grandmother’s treasured memories with true historical events. The whimsical tale is told with great flourish, exaggeration, humour and love. As a personal interpretation of her family’s history, My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts cleverly shows the ordinary citizen partaking in a side story of wartime resistance. The result is both playful, heartfelt and yet serious as it is set in a difficult time in Norway’s history. The author’s quirky style perfectly suits the narrative which is reflected in the colourful, spirited and comedic drawings.

     This film is currently available on YOUTUBE.

Highly Recommended.

Reesa Cohen is a retired instructor of Children’s Literature and Information Literacy at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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