Kun ystävällisyys ja seikkailunhalu kohtaavat yhdessä hahmossa

When kindness and adventurousness meet in one character

The story behind Sanna Pelliccioni's beloved Onni picture books is the same as many other high-quality and enduring success series:
the first book was born out of personal need.

About 18 years ago, writer-illustrator Sanna Pelliccioni was expecting her first child and was looking for a suitable "first book" for her soon-to-be-born son. The kind of simple book where you can find familiar and recognizable elements and has a kind main character. A book that describes the good and safe everyday life.

Since none could be found, she decided to write and illustrate one herself. Sanna also prepared a dummy version of the book to offer it to publishers. At that time, little did she know that the book would become a series or that its main character Onni would become a well-known figure in many families in Finland and around the world. A year later, a publisher saw potential in the Onni book, and the rest is history.

So far, Onni has adventured in a total of 20 books, appeared in exhibitions and selected products. The books have found their way into the homes of many Finnish families with children, and they are constantly borrowed from libraries. What is the secret of Onni's popularity?

– The stories deal with special moments in a child's life, Sanna says, – often with quite challenging times, such as starting kindergarten or becoming a big brother. These significant moments are discussed from the point of view of the sensitive and curious main character.

Onni books, with their little everyday adventures, are perfect for afternoon reading moments in a children's group and at home, for example, in the evening before going to bed. They have the special feature that they calm the readers down.

– These books are created in a different part of my mind than the books that someone else writes and that I illustrate. Many funny sayings or humorous events in Onni books are based on my own family life.

Memories and fiction go hand in hand in these picture books. Perhaps this is the key to the success of the series? There's something so familiar that can happen in any family, and yet always something new and adventurous, something that ignites curiosity and makes you want to read the next book. Some stories embed yet an additional layer as they deal with important topics, such as recycling, civic activism or various cultures.

For Sanna, it is extremely important that Onni books create a special space for readers.

– I hope that all children and adults would through these stories find  a safe, inspiring and good place to be.

I asked Sanna what she dreams about and what kind of future plans she has.

– I have so many new ideas, the sky is the limit, Sanna laughs.

She is interested, for example, in bringing history closer to children and young readers and to work on non-fiction books.

The content dictates the technique in my illustrations, she says, reflecting on the use of painting and pastel as new tools that fuel her curiosity today.

Sanna is also inspired by collaborating on new titles with different authors. Currently she is particularly interested in minorities, history and peace as well as forests, equality and interspecies connections.

When you have a mind as curious as Sanna's, it's no wonder that there are also new Onni stories in the making.

Before the next book comes out, Onni fans can visit the Onni on olla / Happiness Is to Be exhibition which will travel around Finland. It will be on display until the end of March at Gallery ARX in Hämeenlinna, and after that in Helsinki in Malmitalo and Annantalo. The exhibition will continue to tour in Finland for the next few years.

I'm looking forward to where Sanna and Onni will take us next!

Text: Réka Király

Onni on olla / Happiness Is to Be
Exhibition and play space for children aged 2–8
by Sanna Pelliccioni
January 16–March 23, 2024
ARX ​​– Open Cultural Centre
Kulttuurikeskus ARX
Viipurintie 4, 13200 Hämeenlinna
Open Tue–Thu 3pm–6pm, Sat 10am–2pm
Free entry

Onni on! Children's concerts 
March 9, 2024 at 11 am & 1 pm
Miniteatteri, Verkatehdas
Keinusaarentie 5 (entry from Verkatehtaankuja)
13100 Hämeenlinna
Free entry

Onni on olla / Happiness Is to Be
Exhibition and play space for children aged 2–8
by Sanna Pelliccioni
March 26, 2024–TBC
Cultural Centre Malmitalo

Ala-Malmin tori 1, 00700 Helsinki
Free entry

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