The author Gunilla Bergström
Gunilla Bergström (1972-2021) is the illustrator and author behind the stories about Alfie Atkins, who is now a classic character for millions of children all around the world.
Every year, roughly one million Alfie Atkins books are borrowed from libraries across Sweden. Gunilla Bergström’s books have been translated into about 30 languages. The 26 Alfie Atkins books contain independent stories and have never gone out of print. Almost 5 million copies have been printed for the Swedish market alone since the first book, God natt, Alfons Åberg (Good Night, Alfie Atkins) came out back in 1972.
Gunilla has also written rhymes and storybooks. She’s penned lyrics for songs by Georg Riedel, as well as the libretto for a children’s musical, and she’s also worked with children’s theatre and cartoons. She created the sayings and nonsense philosophy in the two Lösgodis Alfie Atkins rhyme books, and has also illustrated picture books.
Alfons-Bokalen is a prize that recognises outstanding contributions to children’s culture. It was founded in 1992 by Gunilla Bergström and publisher Rabén & Sjögren to mark the 20th anniversary of the first Alfie Atkins book. The prize was most recently awarded to Ayla Kabaca in 2017. Former recipients include Nassim Al Fakir, El Sistema, Tobbe Trollkarl and Suzanne Osten. Gunilla Bergström trained as a journalist and has been illustrating and writing full-time since 1975. She calls herself “an odd character, who prefers to go her own way”.
Gunilla Bergström trained as a journalist and has been illustrating and writing full-time since 1975. She calls herself “an odd character, who prefers to go her own way”.
And she’s broken new ground in many different ways. Gunilla Bergström:
- was the first to introduce collage as a narrative feature in picture books, as seen as early as on the cover of her debut book, Mia’s Dad Moves Out (1971).
- was the first to write for children about divorce, in the same book.
- she got a huge response from being the first children’s author to write openly and candidly about disability in the book about Bill and the secret child Bolla.
- she was the first to create a picture book that dealt seriously with the subject of war: Alfie and the Soldier Daddy.
- and she was the first to have a dad instead of a mum as the main parent in the world of children’s books – with Daddy Atkins in the Alfie Atkins series.
On top of that, she was the first contemporary Swedish author in any category to be translated into Arabic. That was back in 1985, with two books from the Alfie Atkins series.
“A magical balance between everyday life and fantasy” (DN) “Gems of child psychology” (SvD) and “she gives children courage” (Bulletin Jugend & Literatur) are quotes that speak volumes about her works.
Gunilla herself says: “I’m not much good at fairy stories and detective novels… for me, reality is magical enough! I want to tell true stories about real people. For in the midst of everyday life we also have: astonishment, terror, a sudden paroxysm of laughter and Eternal Questions… Life is an incomparable enigma! Full of possibilities. The things we get into! Each day is new. Children understand that better than anyone. It’s we adults who have forgotten. I want to tell stories so that children and adults will be reminded and can laugh and be amazed together.” For more information about Gunilla Bergström, why not visit the Alfie Atkins website at www.alfons.se.
Here you can also read more about Alfie Atkins, his family and friends.
“The story behind Alfie Atkins: getting to know Gunilla Bergström”
Gunilla open-heartedly talks about her adventurous and sometimes turbulent life. The biography is written by Klas Gustafson, who has portrayed various cultural personalities in acclaimed biographies. Read more about the book here.
3 May 2019
Gunilla Bergström’s pictures at the Nordic Watercolour Museum (Nordiska Akvarellmuseet)
“One of these days I’ll darn well draw the soul!”
With this audacious thought, Gunilla began creating her children’s books populated by unforgettable characters. She has written and illustrated some 40 children’s books to date.
Alfie Atkins is by far the best-known of all Gunilla’s characters. An important mission of the Nordic Watercolour Museum is to track the creation of picture books in the Nordic region.
Presenting one of Sweden’s most beloved and internationally recognised picture book artists is both an honour and a matter of course.
The exhibition “I’ll darn well draw the soul!” was created in 2017 to mark a double anniversary: Alfie Atkins turned 45 years old and Gunilla Bergström celebrated her 75th birthday.
In 2019, Gunilla donated original pictures from two of her books to the Nordic Watercolour Museum: Hooray for Alfie Atkins dad (Hurra för pappa Åberg) (1993) and There goes Alfie the Thief! (Där går Tjuv-Alfons) (1991). In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museum purchased the original pictures for the book Just tie it, Alfie Atkins! (Bara knyt, Alfons!) (1988).
For more information about Gunilla Bergström, why not visit the Alfie Atkins website at www.alfons.se.