Study Guide is a series of lesson plans paired with graphic novels. This unofficial guide to the first collection of Moomin strips was written for the unexpected COVID-19 classrooms of 2020.
Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip Vol.1
Written and illustrated by Tove Jansson
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Statement of Intent
Bizarre, silly, beautiful. Moomin is these things, a family of trolls whose carefree lifestyle keeps their comic fun during an endless parade of reversals of fate. Populated with inexplicable creatures, adoring nature, lavishly minimal, endearingly radical. Behind a veil of innocence, Tove Jansson questions what we desire and reflects on how we stand in our own way. Jansson herself is a role model for creative people, intellectuals, revolutionaries, human beings. This Moomin Study Guide is structured in reaction to reading the book, but it can (and should) be modulated to the interests of the student. Find what engages your student in the text and then follow that, not the book. Comics are a medium of visual storytelling- if your student wants to start with art, the plot will follow. In this lesson plan, you’ll find summaries of the story with analytical prompts, themes in the art and production of the book, and activities beyond the reading.
Before you get started on the book, try to place it in the context of the student’s life. Who has read comics? You can get lost in a conversation about something as basic as the process of moving from panel to panel to tell a story with words and art. Moomin was a comic strip, not a comic book (another conversation there, about categorization being enabling not prescriptive), but one week after the next, they told a story. What kind of story is Moomin going to be? A strange one! Moomin is a troll. What is a troll? Moomin is also a part of its author Tove Jansson. What is a Tove?
This collection of Moomin stories has four chapters; each is a separate adventure.
Moomin gets everyone to move out of his house, himself included. The snake oil he and Sniff start selling has magical opposite properties. Broken junk sells as art. After robbing brigands, Moomin buys a new house for everybody to live in.
- Fairy Tale standards: magic potions, talking animals, house foreclosure. Class and debt issues are a mainstay in folklore, from Mother Hubbard’s cupboard to evil step-parents’ fixation on inheritance. A social problem with a fantastic answer. In that light, what problems are Moomin really facing?
- What kind of people are these? “Banks are so unexciting and pompous” “I only want to live in peace and plant potatoes and dream!” What kind of values do they hold in Moominvalley? How does that compare to where you live?
Accommodations The Brigands focuses on contradiction. Everything acts the opposite way we expect, including the people, but it also all works out. Create activities that have your students think about or experience duality, polarity, contradictions, oxymorons.
Moomin meets his parents. Mamma and Pappa run away from home for fun and Moomin moves in with his neighbor Snufkin. Sensible Aunt Jane shows up and either learns the real value of money or is swindled by the family.
- Let’s talk about the brain! Moominpappa‘s unhinged drive can be the id, Moominmamma‘s passive knowledge of all things the super-ego, and poor Moomin trying to navigate the two can play the ego.
- Like Snufkin, we are left wondering if the Moomins enlightened Aunt Jane or fleeced her. Do you think the Moomins are criminals? Do you think Jansson thinks the Moomins are criminals?
Accommodations Family Life focuses on value and who determines it. Create activities that have your students think about or experience the difference between monetary value and cultural capital.
On the Riviera
Moomin misses out on the austere beauty of Spring for high stone walls surrounding exotic climes. Pappa is accepted by the rich, mistaking his roughneck lust for moneyed eccentricity. A fun time is had, fleetingly, and though they make inspirational bohemians, the Moomin family is chased out of town.
- On the Riviera, everything is privately owned. The only people in paradise are those who can afford the bill. The talk about neo-colonialism and “exotic” locales where there are no locals allowed is admittedly a big one, but you can start small.
- I find the ending of this story a little upsetting, actually. The fury of the Moomin family gathering all their belongings in the night to skip town is not healthy behavior for a family to participate in, and Pappa and Snorkmaiden seem to have learned nothing at all from the experience. Is this an okay way to act?
Accommodations On the Riviera focuses on bogus desires. Create activities that have your students think about or experience the consequences of thoughtlessness and conspicuous consumption.
Moomin’s Desert Island
Roughing it, the Moomins discover the cave of their forebears. Protomoomins gather pirates, Moomins, Snorkmaiden, and Mymble together to blow up the island they’re on and then send for their rescue. Everyone returns home for tea and rum.
- The Green Knight is a story about doing things that seem wrong but are to the benefit of a bigger picture you can’t see. Are the Protomoomins secretly the King Arthur of the desert island, or are they just crazy?
- Okay. So pretending that danger and bad behavior aren’t fun and exciting isn’t getting us anywhere in child development. “Thrilling” is neither good nor bad but what we make it. Pappa is a chance to see what happens when it goes too far, but it’s also an opportunity to be more open with your students about what they should and shouldn’t be getting up to outside of class.
Accommodations Desert Island focuses on uncertainty, and whether not knowing the outcome of something is a bad thing or a good one. Create activities that have your students think about or experience risk, chance, actions without pre-determined conclusions.
Prompts regarding the art and production of the book.
Art The linework is all graceful curves, straight lines absent and not missed. Jansson’s style is simple, but it is controlled, elegant. It recalls a classic look, like Ub Iwerks or Al Capp, that is cartoony, but before the modern style. Striking depictions of animal and nature also recall folk art and woodcuts. Jansson’s style was inspired by world travel and studying art history. Your students could look into historical parallels like yōkai and woodcuts, or contemporaries of the Moomins like Nijntje.
Production There is much theory and even more talk about how much of Tove Jansson is written into Moomin. Jansson originally published Mumintroll as strips in the Evening News. Drawn and Quarterly published the collected strips in this book. This book is less a collection of comics and more a document of an artist’s work, discuss the difference.
Classroom At Home
Sometimes a shelter-in-place classroom has members who aren’t students. Here are some themes and ideas if they’d like to be included in the lessons but can’t follow the material… or if you just need something for them to do.
- Read more comics!
- Mamma makes a home inside the hotel’s four-poster bed. Have some play time centered around designing a tiny home.
- Help Moomin celebrate the Spring he missed. Make decorations, plant a victory garden, read about the history of honoring the seasons.
- Draw new neighbors. This is a chance to encourage kids to keep drawing even if they feel like their skills aren’t as strong as Tove Jansson’s. Everyone looks different and that’s good.
- Make an elephant sculpture like Marquis Mongaga or a junk sculpture like Rebecca.