I recently traveled across the Baltic Sea to Tallinn in Estonia and found not only a beautiful, atmospheric medieval city to explore, but a fantastic children’s book centre and library in the Old Town. The Estonian Children’s Literature Centre was established in 1933 and its archive library collects children’s books and periodicals in Estonian and published in Estonia, world classics in children’s literature and awarded books in their original languages, reference materials on children’s literature and illustrations from children’s books. It maintains an information centre and performs research on Estonian children’s literature, as well as organising conferences, workshops and lectures. It also runs major projects such as the Young Reader’s Choice Awards, exhibitions and creative competitions. To get a sense of what Estonian children’s books are like, click here.
I was impressed from the start by the Centre’s permanent exhibition by one of Estonia’s foremost children’s authors and illustrators, the late Edgar Valter. He was a self-taught artist who is well-loved by Estonians. Not only were there examples of his illustrative work but also his paintings, which I thought were gentle and luminous. There was also a showcase of current award-winning Estonian books, which had a distinctive look.
The Centre’s library is comprehensive and very welcoming. The librarians showed me various Scottish books in the collection, just some of the many foreign editions they collect. We climbed upstairs and took in a wonderful exhibition of Russian illustrators’ work in the stairwell. This show, The Water of Life, features many artists’ interpretations of Grimms’ fairytales, and while I didn’t like every piece, I found most of them lovely and beautifully rendered. On the next floor there is also a comprehensive exhibition on the history of Estonian children’s books, including beautifully decorated stools to use in the space.
The real magic of the Centre began, for me, in the lecture space. Each chair was decorated with a unique chair cover made by an illustrator. There were also gorgeous shutters covered with murals by Jüri Mildeberg. This grand space was made even more special by these original designs.
But perhaps my favourite area was the top floor, with its relaxed reading and activity area for children. The walls are covered with stunning murals by Piret Mildeberg and giant wooden puppets. To see photos of these, click here. There were showcases full of puppets and dolls, many from Russia. I wish I could have documented every painting on the walls, because each was amazing. I felt very inspired by the Centre and would love to spend more time there and in Tallinn!