This book has been chosen because Ib Spang Olsen is one of Denmark's
most popular children's writers who engages in the fantasies and feelings
of children whilst, at the same time, focusing on life from a Danish point
In Spring, when the moors and meadows are steaming
and the sun hits the ground, there is a saying in Denmark 'the woman in
the marsh is brewing'. Mosekonens Bryg (The Marshwoman's Brew)
tells the story of the Marsh Woman and her rather troll-like family who
sleep underground all Winter and only surface when it is time for them
to brew their beer and herald a change of season. As the sun doesn't agree
with the Marsh woman and her family, they all wait until nightfall before
leaving their home and then set off to collect the weird and wonderful
ingredients that will go into their special concoction. Along the way,
they meet a variety of characters who help them to change the sombre Winter
landscape into colourful Spring.
In the Spring, when the moors and meadows are steaming and
the sun hits the ground, there is a saying in Denmark 'the woman in the
marsh is brewing'. The water vaporises, so - it is not beer that is brewing!
lb Span Olsen, however, tells us what is really happening:
In the Summertime, when the evening is calm, the woman in the marsh appears.
She gazes up into the sky and sees her husband, who looks like a big bush
troll, coming towards her across the marsh.
The little marsh girls then appear, dancing and jumping. They are quite
small and have a lot of long hair which is green and never combed. It
looks like grass.
The marsh boys are really a bunch of louts and play the fool all night.
They tug at the fox's tail and they fish in the marsh, scaring the ducks
as they sleep.
The marsh people can only be seen when it is dark, at night, because the
sunshine does not agree with them.
As soon as the sun rises, they hurry away - down into the marsh. During
the daytime, they are never seen.
When the night falls, however, the marsh woman, her husband and children
all come out. Now the marsh woman begins her work: she puts a lot of things
into her pot, which is a hollow stump. She uses so many different things
that it is hard to understand how she gets hold of them all.
She takes the last sunshine, the first moonlight, a couple of herbs, a
little wind and some bird song. Now she adds the smell of the water vole.
She mixes all this with a lot of other things, then she begins to gnaw
peat from the marsh, using the peat to make a beer barrel
The next morning, before the sun rises, she begins to brew whilst the
little marsh girls lie down as jack '0 lanterns to heat their motherts
A few hours later, she has enough beer, but now she must take care that
it does not run out. That is why the razorbill puts its beak into the
hole in the barrel!
In the wintertime, the whole marsh family are asleep deep down in the
earth, while children are skating on the ice above them.
But when Spring is in the air, look what happens:
The troll kids blow up into the air - and a lark appears. They blow on
the willow trees and the coots - and they blow on the ducks and otters
- and everything in the marsh comes to life again.
Finally, lb Span Olsen tells us about the birds nesting and brooding in
the hair of the marsh girls.
Spring has arrived!
NB This is a working
translation for educational purpose only.
for use in school:
1. Locate Denmark on the map and discuss what the climate
might be like during Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Try to relate
this to the activities of the Marsh people.
2. Are there any other stories/folktales that the children know which
relate to mysterious people who live underground. In groups, they could
write the introduction to an 'explanatory' tale.
3. Look carefully at the illustration on page 20, where the children are
skiing on the pond and the Marsh people are horizontal. Are they asleep?
What are they doing/thinking? What might they do next? Your children might
like to create a storyboard to show the yearly cycle of whichever Marsh
person they prefer.
Consider similarities and differences between Northern and Southern European
countries. Might they affect the personalities/ways of life of the children?
literature and language-based activities can be found in
Picture Books sans Frontières available