On a stormy autumn day I met author and illustrator Anne Vasko in a cafe in Helsinki. We held in our hands Anne's fresh book Hattu (The Hat in English, not translated), which had just arrived from the printing house. It seemed to light up the little cafe and the whole gray day with its incredibly bright and colorful pictures.
Anne is an award-winning illustrator who has been working on children's books, writing herself and in collaboration with other authors for over twenty years. Even with so much experience under her belt, she's still as excited about the new book as if it were her first.
"I'm always on my way to the next book, in a positive way, and that makes me hungry for new stories to tell," she says, holding her new book closer to the light with a big smile. "This book has all the bright colors I was hoping for," she enthuses. We start talking about all the production details and processes that went into making the book.
Anne Vasko works with mixed media, combining hand-painted elements and paper cuts and joining them together later on the computer. She says she collects everyday moments on paper. This has been her way of depicting and making sense of the world since childhood. Now as an adult working in children's books and visual storytelling, this process helps her bring out the child's curiosity that lies within her. This is what makes Anne's stories unique. Her books often deal with philosophical questions, but with Anne's characteristic humor and creative ease, thanks to which they also open well to children.
In her three-part book series, everyday objects become the main characters.
"When I give creative workshops to children, I encourage them to take the simplest thing or object as the main character of their story. This supports their imagination and prevents them from getting stuck in conventional stories and ways of telling them."
The first part of the series, Lentopusu (Etana Editions, 2019) is a gender-neutral love story between an airplane and a library bus. (In Finland, library buses carry books to lend to people in areas that do not have a library nearby.) Anne used old block printing letters as a part of the story's illustration and in this way strongly connected the visual expression of the book with the power of the printed word.
The second part, The Pony's Tail (Etana Editions, 2021), is a humorous crime story about a hobby horse and deals with the serious issue of whether you can take someone else's property without permission in a way that is easy for children to understand. The details of the book form a rich background for the events of the story in a way that is easy for children to understand. The details in this book create a vivid world for the events of the story.
The newest and last part of the trilogy is Hattu, where the main character can be viewed both as an object and being alive. This tension keeps the reader curious: what will happen to the hat when everyone wants a piece of it.
In her latest book, Anne Vasko uses a palette that is colorful and contrasting. The illustrations flow through the book just like the twists and turns of the hat's journey. Color changes support details and different moods. The question of what happens to the hat remains open - will the bugs be able to share it or will someone grab it for themselves?
Hattu is not just a book for a rainy autumn day, but a story for all seasons. It makes you wonder what kinds of secret lives the objects around us could have. It is an invitation for adults and children to think and discuss together, to share a common reading moment and challenge their imagination.
Hattu (The Hat)
Etana Editions, 2023
Story and illustrations: Anne Vasko
Editor: Kirsikka Myllyrinne
Visual Editor: Jenni Erkintalo
Foreign Rights available
Independent part of a trilogy:
Lentopusu (The Flying Kiss), Etana Editions, 2019
Ponin häntä (Pony's Tail), Etana Editions, 2021 (Sold Rights: France)