On November 14, 1907, author Astrid Lindgren was born in the province of Småland, Sweden. Although Lindgren wrote dozens of books, she’s best remembered today for giving the world Pippi Longstocking.
Pippi was Lindgren’s first literary creation, invented when Lindgren’s daughter Karin was sick and wanted a story. Lindgren asked Karin what the story should be about, Karin made up the name off the top of her head, and the rest is history…mostly. It took a few years – and a couple of rejections from editors who must still be regretting that mistake – before the first Pippi book, Pippi Långstrump (the title in Lindgren’s native Swedish) was published. Once it was, Pippi started charming Swedish children immediately, and when the book later began to be translated (into 64 languages to date), the charm spread worldwide.
Lindgren gave Pippi the kind of life most kids would love: she lives alone in a big house with her monkey and her horse, and her two best friends live right next door. Though Pippi’s father loves her, he’s usually off on a sea voyage, leaving Pippi to govern herself. She has superhuman strength (she can lift her horse with one hand) and she’s very smart, with a special talent for duping adults who try to take advantage of kids. She’s eccentric, free-spirited and does whatever she wants.
Who wouldn’t yearn for such an adventurous and independent life? Maybe that’s why the girl with the goofy red braids has been a favorite of kids and adults alike for more than 65 years. A quick Pippi search online brings hundreds of results, including enthusiastic comments from the many readers and reviewers who have loved Pippi over the years:
“You have read Pippi Longstocking before, haven't you? Please say you have. I'd hate to think of anyone getting to [insert your age here] without having experienced this absolute classic. … It's anarchic, it's hilarious, it's eminently readable, it's wide-eyed and magical, it's evocative, it's inspiring, it's fun, fun and more fun. And it's got a monkey in it.” (Review by Keith Dudhnath, The Bookbag)
“If Pippi met Voldemort she'd make mincemeat of him and then, because she's a generous, forgiving soul, sit him down and feed him ginger snaps. … In an age where children are coddled and confined by scared parents, we all need Pippi as the ultimate imaginary friend to run along rooftops and beat up the bad guys.” (Review by Susanna Forest, The Telegraph)
“This freckled face red head is not only a hero to children around the world, but strongly appeals to the child inside all of us. Pippi seems a valiant reminder that the world is, ultimately, what we make it, and that some rules are made to be broken.” (Review by Wendy B., Amazon.com)
“If I was in this story I would definitely want to be Pippi's friend, even though many people will think I am weird. Instead of playing dolls at house I think it would be much more exciting to go to different places with Pippi. Also I think it would be fun to play with her pet horse and the monkey.” (Review by Holly Wilson (age 10), Building Rainbows)
Many of Lindgren’s reviewers and biographers speak of Pippi’s influence on generations of kids, her subversiveness and feminism and strength, and these are all really important reasons to read Pippi’s adventures and pass them down to new generations. But maybe Holly said it best. Kids love Pippi because who wouldn’t want to play with her pet horse and monkey? And whether a childhood is sad or turbulent or just plain ordinary, a glimpse into Pippi’s exciting world can help brighten it.
Lindgren’s ability to create such whimsy brought her the love of readers, along with many honors. As early as 1956 – when her books were just beginning to gain international notice – she was awarded the German Youth Literature Prize (Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis). It was soon followed by the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1958 – an award sometimes called “the Nobel Prize for children’s literature.” Her manuscript collection is listed in UNESCO’s World Heritage collection and both Lindgren and Pippi have been immortalized on postage stamps. Lindgren has been commemorated with sculptures, a pond, and even an asteroid named in her honor.
In return, she has offered honors to other authors who follow in her footsteps. The Astrid Lindgren Prize is awarded to a Swedish language children’s author every year, and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award is the world’s largest award for children’s literature, with a yearly prize of five million Swedish kronor (currently about $734,000 USD). Even after Lindgren’s death on January 28, 2002, her legacy of children’s writing lives on.
The awards and commemorations were surely important to Lindgren, and her commitment to honoring and encouraging other children’s authors showed how much she cared about literature and young people. But no award or stamp or sculpture can express it quite as well as Lindgren’s own words. She once described an event when an anonymous woman pressed a scrap of paper into her hand. It read, “Thank you for brightening up a gloomy childhood.”
“That’s enough for me,” Lindgren said as she recalled the note. “If I’ve been able to brighten up even one gloomy childhood, then I’m satisfied.”