Sunday, March 9, 2008

Astrid Lindgren

Pippi Longstocking
by Astrid Lindgren
Recommended Age: 9+

The Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest honor in international children’s literature, went to Astrid Lindgren in 1958 – she was only the second author to win it. Though she wrote in Swedish, dozens of her books have been translated into English – and this one is the most popular. It started out in 1950 as a way to entertain Lindgren’s bedridden daughter. Now it has two sequels – Pippi Goes on Board and Pippi in the South Seas – and has inspired at least six movies.

I remember having this story read to me when I was a small child. Now that I come to it as an adult, it is still full of fun. The translation by Florence Lamborn has its rough spots, but all in all it is a lighthearted, fast-paced story that twinkles with mischief and leaves you wanting more.

Pippi is a little girl with red hair in braids that stick straight out from her head. She lives alone with a monkey named Mr. Nilsson and a horse that lives on the porch, and she has all kinds of tomboyish adventures with her neighbors, Tommy and Anika. Thoughtlessly brave, heroically strong, shockingly misbehaved, and altogether a free spirit, Pippi is a horror to adults and a delight to children – and a bit of both to those of us who are, well, a bit of both.

In this first book of Pippi’s adventures, you learn how Pippi comes to live alone at Villa Villekulla; how she manages to avoid being sent to a children’s home; how she steals the show at the circus; how she entertains two burglars; how she utterly ruins a polite coffee party; how she puts bullies in their place and saves lives; and many other adventures.

Here is an internationally beloved author at her light, comical best. Judging by the adoring reviews I have read on many of her other books, I think you will treasure any book by Astrid Lindgren that you find. I plan to look for more of them!

Pippi Goes on Board
by Astrid Lindgren
Recommended Age: 9+

Pippi Longstocking is the strongest girl in the world. At age 9 she can pick up her horse and carry it around. She is also rich, so she can afford to live in a run-down house called Villa Villekulla on the outskirts of a small, Swedish town. There are no adults around to tell her what to do, so she doesn’t go to school. She looks after herself, and she plays with the children next door named Tommy and Annika. She has freckles, mismatched stockings, and red braids that stick straight out. No one knows how to have fun like Pippi.

In this, the second book of stories about Pippi, our loud, tall-tale-telling heroine proves again why children love her and adults vaguely disapprove. She always speaks her mind, though often nonsense is on it. She always does just what she wants to do, which may include buying all the candy in town and giving it to the local children, making a spectacle of herself at the fair, and playing shipwrecked-on-a-desert-isle.

But at the climax of this book, Pippi has a hard time deciding what she really wants to do. Will she sail away with her father, the cannibal king Efraim I Longstocking? Or will she stay on shore with Tommy and Annika, her best friends? You can’t really judge from the fact that the third book in the series is called Pippi in the South Seas.

I recommend the Puffin edition of this book, translated from Swedish by Florence Lamborn and illustrated by Louis S. Glanzman.

Pippi in the South Seas
by Astrid Lindgren
Recommended Age: 9+

This is the third book of stories about Pippi Longstocking: a gusty, bossy, outrageous little girl who can do massive feats of strength, and who lives to amuse her next-door friends Tommy and Annika. And now Pippi takes Tommy and Annika with her on a visit to the tropical island where her father has become a cannibal king.

As you might expect from the previous books, Pippi Longstocking and Pippi Goes on Board, the children have an adventure full of silliness and mischief. Pity the adult who stands in their way. And in the end, Pippi appears as a kind of female Peter Pan, a girl who will never grow up if she can do anything about it. And there is little she can’t do when she sets her mind on it!

From the adventure hidden among the day-by-day routines of life in a Swedish village, to frolics with cannibal children, pirates, sharks, and waterfalls, young readers will enjoy this book – and younger listeners will enjoy hearing it read aloud.

I recommend the Puffin edition, translated from Swedish by Gerry Bothmer and illustrated by Louis S. Glanzman.

UPDATE: Wiki says there are eleven (11) Pippi stories in all; but only these first three are full-length novels. The rest recycle excerpts from the above. Wiki also has a page listing more of Lindgren's works.

Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter
by Astrid Lindgren
Recommended Age: 11+

Astrid Lindgren was the second (1958) recipient of the Hans Christen Andersen Medal, the most prestigious international award for achievements in children’s literature. And though Americans know her chiefly for her Pippi Longstocking books, it does seem unlikely that three slender books (one of which had not been published in 1958) would merit such an award. So I became curious about what else Lindgren wrote – and among several other titles, I found this book.

Ronia has some things in common with Pippi. She is an active, spirited girl, with a strength of will equal to that of her wild, strong, passionate father. Her story is like a classic fairy tale steeped in a love of the northern woods, with a shot of “girl power” to spice it up.

Born in a robber’s fortress, raised by a band of robbers led by the fierce Matt and his loving wife Lovis, Ronia loves to run free in the woods – though she must be careful of the bears, the waterfall, the wild harpies, and other dangers. Then a hated, rival band of robbers installs itself in a neighboring stronghold, kindling a bitter feud. Soon Ronia shares a devoted, secret friendship with Birk, the son of the rival chieftain. They share the same love of nature, and they grow to love each other as brother and sister. Their love story is sweet and innocent, yet tinged with guilt because they dare not let their parents know.

But the truth will out, and when it does out, the children are forced to flee. Disowned by her father, harrassed by his mother, they take refuge in a forest cave where they enjoy the beauties of spring, summer, and fall together. It would be an idyllic life but for three things: First, the dangers of wild harpies, waterfall, etc., have to catch up with them. Plus, they know they can never survive the oncoming winter. And finally, Ronia’s heart still breaks for her father, testing the limits of her loyalty to Birk.

Worst of all, Birk plans to stay in the woods if it kills him.

Will this be a tragedy, or will it all end happily? See for yourself in this beautiful, simple, Romeo-and-Juliet-in-the-woods novel, which at times reads like poetry. For example:
“I’m drinking in the summer like the wild bee sucking up honey,” she said. “I’m gathering it together in a big lump of summer, to live on when...when it’s not summer any more. Do you know what there is in it?”

And she told Birk, “It’s a whole batch of sunrises, and blueberry bushes covered with berries, and the freckles you have on your arms, and moonlight over the river in the evening, and starry skies, and the woods in the noonday heat when the sun is shining on the fir trees, and the small rain in the evening, and squirrels and foxes and hares and elk and all the wild horses we know, and when we swim and when we ride in the woods -- well, it’s a whole batch of everything that is summer!”
This quote is taken from Patricia Crampton’s translation, published under the Puffin label.

IMAGE: The last photo is a still from the 1984 Swedish-language film based on this book.

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