Henno Käo

Henno Käo


Henno Käo (10. I 1942 – 2. VII 2004) was a book illustrator, musician, children’s author and poet whose literary works have had a considerable influence on the development of Estonian children’s literature.

Käo was born in Laimjala parish on Saaremaa, and attended school at Audla, Kahtla and Orissaare. In 1963 he graduated from Tartu Art School as a decorative artist. For a short time he studied graphic art at the State Art Institute of the ESSR (1968-1969); later he supplemented his studies at the Villu Toots school of calligraphy (1975-1978). From 1963 to 1968 he worked at the Tallinnfilm studios as an artist on puppet films, and from 1969 to 1982 as an artist at the Directorate of Recreational Parks of Tallinn. From 1982 he was a freelance artist and writer, a member of the Writers’ Union from 1991.

Käo’s literary output is diverse; in the first place he is the author of numerous children’s books, and moreover the illustrator of all his own books. The most voluminous and impressive of his children’s books are fantasy literature, for which the author has been called one of the most consistent and spectacular fantasy creators in Estonian children’s literature.

From a longing for his childhood landscape on Saaremaa arose his first children’s book, Suure Kivi lood (‘Stories of the Great Stone’, 1985), in which the central object of the stories – the Great Stone, a peculiar time machine – symbolises the wealth of children’s games, and a nostalgic world. The Saaremaa of his childhood is also recalled in a book of memories, Kui veel telekat ei olnud (‘When There Was Still No Telly’, 2001), which creates a truthful and unadorned picture of life in those days.

A large proportion of his work intended for children is imaginative, humorous and many-layered. His literary images are grounded in reality, but the development of his themes is free, boundless and surprising, intertwined with elements from folklore and fables. In his thrilling and adventurous stories there are various emissaries from the world of ghosts and spirits, but also contemporary vampires and aliens, who are mostly sharp-sighted but benevolent critics of the conditions of life. Real-life subject-matter often finds reflection in absurd or allegorical ways.

Colourful fantastic images are drawn by the children’s story Oliüks (‘Onceupon’, 1989), in which Onceupon, a cosmic wanderer from the far side of the Moon, travels in space in a big soup plate and meets many strange beings. The hidden world of fantastic creatures on the far side of the Moon is revealed in the story-book Kaheksajalgade planeet (‘Planet of the Octopi’, 1999). Gruesome and absurd stories about witches, phantoms, wraiths, poltergeists and many other mythological beings who try to adapt to contemporary urban society are collected in the children’s book Dondijutud (‘Khost stories’, 1993). In the fairy-tale Väike kahvatu kummitus (‘The Pale Little Ghost’, 1994) Käo deals with the subject of children’s terrors.

Käo creates his own unique myth of the cosmos in the book Väike sabatäht (‘The Little Comet’, 1994), in which he tells the story of the birth of one celestial object and its wanderings through space into our solar system, where it thumps onto Earth as the Kaali meteorite (which in reality fell to Kaali in Saaremaa over 3000 years ago, leaving a crater with a diameter of 110m and several smaller ones). At the centre of the comical science-fiction story Läbi hõreda kivi (‘Through the Thin Stone’, 1999) is the motif of the mad scientist and the curious aliens. In the story Viimane minut (‘The Last Minute’, 2003) a dimension is revealed alongside the ordinary world in which beings midway between people and angels operate, taking care of nature. The historical-fantastic fairy-tale Väike rüütel Rikardo (‘Rikardo the Little Knight’, 2004) the action takes place in a modernised Middle Ages, in which a young knight goes on a quest to fight with a dragon.

An important part in Käo’s work is played by witty little stories based on word-play and linguistic jokes. In the collections Printsuss (‘The Serpent Princess’, 2003), Napakad jutud (‘Silly Stories’, 2003), Ahjukoll ja teisi lugusid (‘The Oven Bogey and Other Stories’, 2003), the author, by changing just one letter in an Estonian word, creates exciting worlds, interesting connections and neat associations. In the children’s poetry collections Hinge korter (‘Soul’s Apartment’, 2001) and Tähed ja taburet (‘Stars and Stool’, 2004) express the author’s gentler and more lyrical side, which has inspired many song-writers.

Käo’s books have repeatedly won children’s literature competitions and earned several awards for children’s literature. His book Kusagil mujal (‘Somewhere Else’, 2000) was given as a present to every Estonian first-grade pupil in Estonian Book Year of 2000-2001. Käo’s books are popular as library loans and on lists of recommended books for schools.

As an artist, Käo is known chiefly as a book illustrator, but he also created pastel and water-colour paintings, designed ex-libris inscriptions and drew caricatures. As a musician he was one of the founders of the folk-rock group Peoleo (active 1965-1973), their singer, guitarist and author of many of their lyrics.

A. O. (Translated by C. M.)


Books in Estonian

Children’s stories
Suure Kivi lood. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1985, 48 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Argo, 2017, 54 lk.]
Kui mind üldse olemas ei oleks. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1986, 47 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Avita, 1999, 55 lk.]
Oliüks. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1989, 78 lk.
Dondijutud. Tallinn: Tiritamm, 1993, 126 lk.
Kuningas, kuninga kass ja teised. Tallinn: Kupar, 1993, 105 lk.
Vares Villemi jõulud. Tallinn: Koolibri, 1993, 16 lk.
Vares Villemi reis maailma lõppu. Tallinn: Tiritamm, 1993, 31 lk.
Väike kahvatu kummitus. Tallinn: Egmont Estonia, 1994, 32 lk.
Väike Sabatäht. Tallinn: Egmont Estonia, 1994, 16 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Argo, 2017, 16 lk.]
Lumeröökija ehk Üheksa ametit. Tallinn: Olion, 1995, 16 lk.
Noorpagana lood. Tallinn: Koolibri, 1995, 30 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: TEA Kirjastus, 2010, 34 lk.]
Olematu saar?. Tallinn: H. Käo, 1997, 83 lk.
Läbi hõreda kivi. Tallinn: Faatum, 1999, 133 lk.
Kaheksajalgade planeet. Tallinn: Koolibri, 1999, 39 lk.
Oliüks ärihaide hambus. Tallinn: Hotger, 1999, 83 lk.
Kusagil mujal. Tallinn: Tiritamm, 2000, 56 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: TEA Kirjastus, 2012, 50 lk.]
Printsuss. Tallinn: Tiritamm, 2000, 125 lk.
Kui veel telekat ei olnud. Tallinn: Ilo, 2001, 139 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Argo, 2017, 111 lk.]
Maailma loomine ja teisi lugusid. Tallinn: Ilo, 2001, 94 lk.
Maailma ots ja teisi lugusid. Tallinn: Ilo, 2002, 95 lk.
Ahjukoll ja teisi lugusid. Tallinn: Ilo, 2003, 94 lk.
Napakad jutud: postpõdernistlik raamat. Tallinn: Ilo, 2003, 95 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Tänapäev, 2013, 95 lk.]
Viimane minut. Tallinn: Faatum, 2003, 160 lk.
Väike rüütel Rikardo. Tallinn: Tänapäev, 2004, 137 lk.
Siil Sagriku seiklused. Tallinn: Tänapäev, 2005, 94 lk.
Tähestikulinn. Tallinn: Faatum, 2005, 54 lk.
Mina, emme ja teised. Tallinn: Tänapäev, 2008, 125 lk.
Väike kahvatu kummitus ja teised lood. Tallinn: TEA Kirjastus, 2008, 37 lk. [Valikkogu.]
Inimese pesa. Tallinn: TEA Kirjastus, 2009, 37 lk. [Valikkogu.]
Kosmiline teekond – kõige suurem seiklus. Urantia raamatu ainetel. Tallinn: Eesti Urantia Assotsiatsioon, 2015, 36 lk. [E-raamat: 2017.]

Children’s poetry
Hinge korter. Tallinn: Tiritamm, 2001, 47 lk.
Tähed ja taburet. Tallinn: Faatum, 2004, 80 lk.
Röövlilaev. Tallinn: TEA Kirjastus, 2007, 43 lk. [Valikkogu.]
Ajamasin. Tallinn: TEA Kirjastus, 2009, 43 lk.

Song lyrics
Kui õige laulaks?. Kupleetekste 1988–1991. Tallinn, 1991, 31 lk.