for choosing the book:
The reason for choosing this book is that it deals with everyday
life situations in Sweden, and with human relationships. We are also given
a good idea of children's unconventional ways of thinking and approaching/solving
problems. We also get an insight into how Swedish society treats old people
and what this does to them. In addition, the book is written in a very
humoristic tone and is complemented by masterly pictures.
Berra is a boy who very much wishes he had a grandfather,
and his best friend knows where to find one. So the two boys go to the
nearby old people's home and pick out an old man to become Berra's grandfather.
They visit him frequently/take him on exciting outings and the old man
feels happy, needed and alive. He helps them to make a kite and teaches
them how to fly it. They have a lot of fun together and get up to lots
of boyish pranks. The old man also tries to teach Berra to whistle.
Berra keeps practising, but whistling is difficult. At last he can whistle
though, and runs happily to his 'grandfather' to show him. But - the old
man is dead. At the funeral, Berra goes up to the coffin and proudly whistles
the old hit his 'grandfather' has taught him. It is called: Can you whistle,
Johanna? and was very popular in the 1930ies.
Translation (pages 21-23):
'When's you birthday?' Berra asked his grandfather.
'We can celebrate it with you.'
Grandfather looked up at the gold clock on the wall.
'Well, it will probably be soon' he said.
'Maybe next Friday?' asked Berra.
'Yes, maybe then,' replied the old man.
'Then we'll only stay a little longer because we've got lots to do before
Berra had to check the battery in his torch. He also had to rob his piggy
bank but, because there wasn't much money in it, he had to mow three lawns
and weed Gustavsson's flower bed.All the time he was practising how to
He practised on Wednesday, when they went to the shops
to buy the biggest cigar they had ever seen.
He also practised on Thursday when they went to the grocer's, the bakers
and a rather expensive shop.
Even on Friday, when he packed his rucksack, Berra whistled so that his
cheeks got red like two halves of a tomato.
But he still couldn't whistle a single note
'This is hard', said Berra, as they walked past a little chapel.
'I think it's the hardest thing I have ever learned to do in my whole
NB This is a working translation
for educational purpose only.
for use in school:
1. Discuss grandparents' characteristics with children. eg
What do they look like? (descriptive language - adjectives)
What do they like doing? (active language - verbs)
How do they do things? (adverbs)
i) Your friend has to take a letter to one of your grandparents. Write
a visual description of him/her, so that your friend will be able to recognise
ii) Make a list of all the things you like doing with your grandparents.
Compare this with a friend.
2. Discuss what children like doing best with grandparents.
i) Make a storyboard of one of the things you enjoy doing with your grandmother/father.
ii) Make a family tree, showing your relationship with your grandparents.
3. Looking carefully at the illustrations in 'Can you whistle Johanna?'
discuss similarities/ differences between Sweden and England.
i) Teacher or children to divide the board/flipchart/page into two and
list similarities & differences.
ii) Choose one of these similarities/differences and describe the scene
as if it were to be set on stage.
the importance of grandparents and other relations.
NB Further literature and language-based
activities can be found in
Picture Books sans Frontières available from