Manny's Reviews > Var är Bus-Alfons?

Var är Bus-Alfons? by Gunilla Bergström
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Apr 20, 11

bookshelves: children, swedish-norwegian-and-danish, alfons
Read in January, 1991

Alfons's dad wonders what's wrong with the kid. He's so unnaturally well-behaved, even to the point of washing his hands properly before dinner! But then he realizes that Alfons is worried about starting school. Swedish children don't start primary school until they're seven, and it's a big deal. Most of them live close enough that they can walk there on their own, and around this time of year (I'm writing in early September) Stockholm is covered in posters reminding drivers to be careful. Some of these children will never have crossed a road before without an adult hand to hold. And that's before they've even got through the school gates.

Dad thinks about it, and when he tucks Alfons up in bed the night before, he tells him that he's not the only kid who's worried. Right now, he says, there dozens, hundreds, THOUSANDS of kids who feel just the same way! You can see all the lighted windows in the picture. The thought comforts Alfons a bit, but he's still pretty nervous when he sets out for his first day.

However, when he gets home, he's back to his own self again, and has a good story to tell over dinner. He was anxious, and so were the other new kids in class, but none of them had stopped to think about how TEACHER would feel! After all, she has a whole class of kids to deal with that she's never seen before. She told them that despite going out to buy a new dress, and fixing her hair, she'd still been so worried that she hadn't managed to get to sleep. This confession has broken the ice, and Alfons has already decided he likes her.

It's a cute story. But would a real primary school teacher dare to lose status by trying her approach? I've wondered about this several times.

__________________________________________

My Swedish wife Elisabeth commented that most Swedish children wouldn't walk to school on their own on their first day, and moreover that their parents have the right to stay with them for the first six months if they feel the child is anxious. In practice, teachers tend to discourage overprotective parents from exercising this right unnecessarily - but in the fairly well-to-do part of Stockholm where we used to live, you might expect a parent to keep the child company for at least the first few days, until they'd got used to their new life.

However, Alfons lives in a rougher part of town, and we weren't sure how much of a difference that made. In the story, there's no doubt that he does go to school on his own, right from the start. This might be normal for a child living in an apartment block in Farsta or Hässelby Strand, as he appears to do, or perhaps Gunnilla Bergström decided to present the story as she did for dramatic reasons. Any Swedish readers out there who would like to comment?

__________________________________________

My four year old niece Hannah, who's already discovered she can use her not inconsiderable charm to get men to do things for her, imperiously commanded a translation of this book. She's visiting tomorrow and skyped me the other day to make sure it would be ready in time. I predict she'll go far.

Hannah, the job is done. I hope you won't mind if I also share it with my Goodreads friends?
Here is Alfon Åberg, seven years old.
He's not like he usually is.

He looks so serious!
And his shoeslaces are knotted neatly.
You never saw anyone so tidy.

Alfons is going to start school.
He's got a new jacket – and a school bag – and a pencil-case.

But he's not the usual Alfons ...

The usual Alfons is happy and naughty and...

... takes out his torch in the evening, after Dad's said goodnight and turned off the light ..

... and says he PROMISES to tidy up – but then just goes and does something else!

The usual Alfons says that he WILL be back in time – and then forgets to come home for dinner anyway ...

... or he says that he HAS washed his hands – when he hasn't washed them at all!

But now Alfons isn't like he usually is – happy and a bit naughty. No, he's all quiet and serious and does everything he's told.

Dad feel worried. He doesn't need to be strict. All he has to say is "Remember to take out your plate!"

"Yes Dad," says Alfons, and takes out his plate.

Or "No torch tonight, Alfons!"
"No, Dad," says Alfons, and doesn't switch on his torch.

Or "Don't leave your clothes on the floor!"

"Okay," says Alfons, and puts all his clothes neatly on the chair when he goes to bed.

And before dinner, he goes straightaway and washes his hands. He even remembers to roll up his sleeves so they don't get wet!

It's "Sure, Dad", "Okay, Dad", "No problem, Dad"... all day long.

Alfons is worried about something, thinks Dad, and he also feels a bit worried.

So, the day before school starts, Dad asks:

"Who do you think's worried just now?"
"I dunno" says Alfons, and pretends he's thinking.
"Well," says Dad. "There's a bunch of people who are worried. Tons of them! Everyone who's seven years old and going to start school tomorrow. Now they're worried and anxious, every one of them. But a little curious too. Just think of all the seven year olds who live in our block of flats...

they're all lying awake right now! Just like you are! And they're wondering what school will be like tomorrow. They're thinking they're starting at school...

... and they're feeling scared of each other! Yes, they're all scared and worried (but a bit curious too). Maybe they don't realise there's someone else on the other side of the wall who's lying awake and also wondering...

And just think! Over the whole town! The whole COUNTRY! All those seven year olds lying awake. There must be hundreds of them. Thousands of them...

When Alfons thinks of all those children, it's easier to sleep.

Next day, all over the country, hundred and thousands of seven year olds go to their new schools. Alfons too. Dad comes with him to the school gate.

"Now remember what I said. Everyone is feeling a bit nervous. Even the ones who look tough and show off all the time. Now have a nice day! Look after your new jacket and your new school-bag. And come STRAIGHT HOME after school."Alfons says he will.

In the classroom, all the children get a book and a place to sit. Everyone says what their name is. Teacher too! And teacher tells the children a secret. It's funny. Everyone laughs, and they don't feel nervous any more.

After school, Alfons walks home with one of his new friends. They stop a few times on the way to mess around a bit. The best place is the stream. There are some really good sticks there to build things with.

They build bridges and harbors and boats ... and Alfons leaves his new bag lying in the sand ... and forgets he was supposed to go straight home.

But as soon as he's come home, Alfons says:

"You were lying! You were wrong! What you said yesterday wasn't true! The kids weren't the ones who were scared!"
"Who was, then?" asks Dad.

"Well," says Alfons. "Teacher told us a secret. The person who was really scared last night..."

... was TEACHER! She couldn't get to sleep. She was just lying there thinking she was going to meet a whole new class – with twenty new children that she didn't know. She didn't even know our names! And all those new parents too!

Dad, she said she was so nervous that she had to go and buy a new dress and get her hair done... and she still couldn't sleep!"

"Oh right!" says Dad.
"We forgot about teacher, didn't we? But now you'd better get a move on. Don't leave your jacket on the floor like that! And put your bag away! And make sure you wash your hands before dinner!"

Alfons says he's already washed his hands. But he hasn't. Because now he's like he usually is again – happy and a bit naughty.

(But he's not quite the same Alfons. Now he's a schoolboy too!)

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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Rose (new)

Rose I'm a primary school teacher, and I would consider using that approach. Without the details about fixing my hair and whatnot, but acknowledging that we were all faced with a new situation and all would be feeling a bit nervous but also excited. I don't think that would involve a loss of status.

If I went into great detail about my sleepless nights and all that though, that would not be appropriate. You could say, however, that you had been awake last night thinking all about the new class, and ask if any of the other children had found it hard to sleep too because they were thinking about school or worrying.

Mind you, I mainly work with littler ones (up to 7 or so). I wouldn't use this approach in this form with older primary school kids, but I'd consider using it in a modified way (e.g. have a box in which kids can post their worries about the new year).


Manny Rose, thank you, it was so interesting to see the story from the teacher's perspective!

And Abigail, as I keep telling you, just try reading the stories in the original and you'll have learned Swedish before you realize what's happened. It worked for my friend Gen, why shouldn't it work for you?



message 3: by Rose (new)

Rose And also more dual-language books, which are great both for exposing kids to other languages and for meeting the needs of children whose first language is not English/whose parents cannot read English.


notgettingenough The usual Alfons is happy and naughty and...


... or he says that he HAS washed his hands – when he hasn't washed them at all!


I wonder how his father found out. When I got found out, it was like this, after coming out of public loo in a country town:

S. 'Did you wash your hands?'

Me: 'Yes'

S. 'What did you dry them with?'

Me: Completely stuck, couldn't remember what was in the loo, unable to bring lie glibly to tip of tongue.

FOUND OUT. Exposed, just like that.

Age? 41.

I mean, I felt like I was about eight. But truly, honestly, I was forty-one years old, caught in a lie I must have told very smoothly a long long time earlier when I was Roman Catholic and more practised in such arts.


message 5: by Amy (new)

Amy My primary school teacher told me exactly that when I was seven and nervous! It made me feel so much better.

Now I've read the translation, can I mark this as read? :)


message 6: by Manny (last edited Apr 20, 2011 08:36AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Manny notgettingenough wrote:
I wonder how his father found out. When I got found out, it was like this, after coming out of public loo in a country town..."


It's similar to the way a journalist managed to trap John Selwyn Gummer, one of our most hated ministers during the 90s. Gummer was going on about how it was important to save energy and use a washing-up bowl.

"Do you use one then?" asked the journalist.

"Of course I do!" said Gummer indignantly.

"What color is it?" asked the journalist innocently.

And, just like you, Gummer didn't know. You're lucky you weren't on prime-time TV.


Manny Amy wrote: "My primary school teacher told me exactly that when I was seven and nervous! It made me feel so much better.

Hey, so it's actually true! That's great!

Now I've read the translation, can I mark this as read? :)"

I think it's a generally accepted convention on Goodreads that you can mark something as read if you've read the translation. Deplorable as it is.


message 8: by notgettingenough (last edited Apr 20, 2011 08:34AM) (new)

notgettingenough Manny wrote: "
I think it's a generally accepted convention on Goodreads that you can mark something as read if you've read the translation. Deplorable as it is.
"


!!!!

Manny wrote: "notgettingenough wrote:
I wonder how his father found out. When I got found out, it was like this, after coming out of public loo in a country town..."

It's similar to the way a journalist manage..."


!!


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