Generations of children around the world have grown up with the Moomins, the iconic family of adventurous, philosophical hippo-like trolls whose stories Finnish author-artist Tove Jansson introduced in the 1940s. From their bright blue house in Moomin Valley, the Moomins go on adventures, contemplate life’s big questions, and eat lots of pancakes. Jansson’s Moomin books have been translated into more than 55 languages and been adapted for television in Japan and around Europe, including Jansson’s native Finland, where they’ve been on TV since 1991.
“Every child in Finland knows the Moomins,” aid Minna Honkasalo, a producer at the Moomin Museum in Tampere. Some are so familiar with the animated characters, she said, that they’re surprised when they discover that the Moomins were originally seen in book illustrations.
Kids in the U.S. now have the opportunity to encounter Moomin stories in animated and illustrated format through “Moomin Animations–Thrills and Cuddles,” on display at the National Children’s Museum in Washington, D.C., through January 9, 2022. Hosted in cooperation with the Embassy of Finland, Moomin Characters Ltd., and Gutsy Animations, the exhibition is part of Kids Eurofest DC, an annual celebration organized by the E.U. delegation to the U.S. It’s the first visiting exhibition at the National Children’s Museum, which re-opened in its new location in February 2020, and the first show the Moomin Museum has mounted in the U.S.
Jansson had a multimedia approach to the Moomin stories from the beginning. In addition to the books, she drew comic strips and wrote plays. The stories have been interpreted in ballet and opera. Encountering the characters through animation allows fans to see how they’ve been interpreted through the years in different cultures. The timeless, enduring messages of the books are universal, Honkasalo said. “Moomin House is open to everyone, and everyone is accepted as they are. Especially at this time, we need the Moomin philosophy.”
Pink clouds—integral to the Moomin stories—hang over the exhibition, each printed with a message representing a value expressed in the Moomin books, including respect for nature, compassion, and equality. There’s an area where children can leave messages of kindness to exchange with children in Finland. In the messages, “children and families express their values and reflect on how they want the world to be,” said Suvi Järvelä, head of cultural affairs, promoting the spirit of unity and acceptance conveyed in the books.
Online and in-person programming gives Moomin fans opportunities to experience the exhibition if they’re not able to come in person. Director Jay Grace of Gutsy Animations will talk about the creative process that brought the stories to life in the 2019 TV series Moominvalley, and the show’s composers will explain their musical approach through blended in-person and streaming events. In December, a Christmas in Moominvalley event offers a story time and a chance to learn about holiday traditions in Finland. “We’re seeing a lot of enthusiasm, both from those who already know the Moomins and those meeting them for the first time,” said Meredith Hamme of the National Children’s Museum.
Central to the exhibition is Jansson’s original artwork and interpretive material about her life and creative journey. The daughter of artists, she wrote and illustrated stories as a child, studied painting at university, and worked as a newspaper writer and illustrator. At a time when homosexuality was illegal in Finland, she lived openly with her partner Tuulikki Pietilä, who was the inspiration for the character Too Ticky.
Jansson’s message of living a life true to yourself is celebrated in the exhibition with an interpretive quote from the passionately individualist character Snufkin: “One must always be free to go about searching for your own melody.” Honkasalo says she hopes that learning about Jansson as an artist will inspire kids to pursue their own curiosity and creativity.
More information about the exhibition and programming is available here. The Embassy of Finland and National Children’s Museum will give out 400 free tickets to the exhibition on October 16, 17, and 24 (100 tickets per day), with information on tickets available here.