August 31, 2017

My Grandmother Ironed the King's Shirts

Story and art by Torill Kove
National Film Board of Canada Collection
Firefly Books
32 pp.
Ages 7-10
September, 2017

The National Film Board of Canada has been a part of Canada since 1939, impressing audiences, critics and award juries around the world for its entirety.  Films from documentaries to animations have delighted and now Firefly Books is partnering with the NFB to bring some of its stories to publication.  Starting next month, Firefly Books is launching the National Film Board of Canada Collection with the publication of two picture books including this one, My Grandmother Ironed the King's Shirts, based on the 1999 Oscar®-nominated NFB animated film of the same name.

Torill Kove recounts a story she'd heard from her grandmother, Aslang Bech of Norway, of her activities just before, during and prior to World War II in Oslo.  Though I have no doubts that Torill Kove’s grandmother, whose photo prefaces the story, truly ironed the King’s shirts, there is an air of a tall tale to her story of civil disobedience against the Nazis that may or may not be true.  I choose to believe it as it would be so satisfying if it were. Regardless of its veracity, the story is charming.

The book begins with a history lesson about Norway and the country’s decision to have a king lead them when it became an independent country.  Prince Carl of Denmark was selected and became King Haakon VII of Norway with Queen Maud and young Prince Olav in tow.  Though the family became proud Norwegians, embracing the people and culture readily, their wrinkled appearance had Norwegians shaking their heads.  So a clothing shop called Hoff agree to iron the royal family’s clothing, and years later this is the shop to which Torill Kove’s grandmother came to work.  A little investigative work led her to learn that she truly was ironing the King’s shirts.

From My Grandmother Ironed the King's Shirts 
by Torill Kove
All that changed when Norway was drawn into war against the Germans in 1940.  Proudly, the King refused to surrender and urged Norwegians to resist.  Now relegated to ironing the shirts of the German army, Torill Kove's grandmother began to sabotage their uniforms and encouraged the other Hoff pressers to do the same. “Word of their activities spread and soon all the shirt pressers in Norway were involved in a nationwide shirt sabotage.
From My Grandmother Ironed the King's Shirts 
by  Torill Kove
Though history books may attribute the departure of the Germans in 1945 to Europe-wide capitulation, Torill Kove suggests they left because they had no undamaged clothes and fled in near-nakedness.  For this act of civil disobedience, her grandmother and others were decorated as resistance fighters.
From My Grandmother Ironed the King's Shirts 
by Torill Kove
Tall tale? Maybe.  Enthralling?  Absolutely!  Between the story details and Torill Kove’s illustrations, which are playful yet factual as seen by the accuracy of Torill Kove’s depiction of the King, My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts is a splendid side story that illuminates how a country outside of the the key players could withstand and triumph during World World II.  By keeping her tale absorbing while boisterous in colour and cartoon-like illustrations, Torill Kove tells history in a way that goes beyond both truth and tragedy, something few stories of WWII can achieve.


Do check out the animated short upon which this picture book is based at the NFB's channel on YouTube. The link is

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