Rose Lagercrantz, with artwork by Eva Eriksson
“Mitt lyckliga liv”, translated from Swedish by Julia Marshall
(Gecko Press)

Dani is a happy little girl. She is about to start school, and she has been waiting to do that for a long, long time, even though she doesn’t really know anybody there. When she gets to her school, things get even better because there, she meets Ella. Soon, they are inseparable and do everything together. But then something happens Dani isn’t prepared for; how will Dani cope without her best friend?

My Happy Life is a wonderful little book, perfect for children getting into a pace of reading chapter books. The chapters here are short, the text large and the black and white sketches are engaging, fun and break the text into more manageable chunks.
There are many interesting themes touched upon in My Happy Life . Dani comes from a monoparental family, and lives with her father having lost her mother to illness. Her father is native of Italy, which they visit in the book. There is however a real sense of domestic happiness within the story, with her father being a strong, positive role model and her extended Italian family supportive. This brings a very positive message about families coming in all shapes and sizes. When she starts school and meets Ella, this encounter feels like the last bit of the puzzle that makes Dani complete. Their friendship is very special, but possibly too exclusive, not allowing others in, and when Ella leaves town, things fall apart for Dani not only because she has lost her only friend, but also because for a while, until things get better, she is a little isolated within her class.  This brings an interesting message about the ups and downs of friendship to  readers, which they will have all experienced at some point in their young lives. They will all be familiar with the everyday shenanigans of the classroom, and therefore this will make it all the more real to them.
The overall message of My Happy Life however is the optimism that oozes from this little girl. Despite having dealt with grief and loss (losing her mother, but also losing her best friend), Dani seems to be able to bring herself together, and eventually overcome whatever life throws at her. Her steady positive outlook on life is wonderfully uplifting, and allows for this tale, which deals with some difficult themes, to remain safe and nonthreatening for young readers.

I have got to mention the format of My Happy Life, because it is wonderful. Paperbacks are all very similar looking usually, and this is very different; Eva Eriksson’s wonderfully quirky illustrations have a lot to do with that, but the slightly bigger format and the obvious quality of the paper make My Happy Life gorgeous as an object too, and will make the intended audience feel quite proud and grown-up to own such a beautiful book.

Illustrations © Eva Eriksson

Source: review copy from publisher