Growing up with a Swedish mother, my sister and I were fortunate enough to be indoctrinated in to all things Astrid Lindgren related, from a very young age. We had hand me down copies of all of her books, dog-eared and crinkled with time. Our mother handmade us dolls of our favorite characters. We were obsessed with our American VHS bootleg copy of the movie: Pippi and the South Seas, even though it was in Swedish and our understanding of the language was patchy at best. We hid things in trees, called our little brother Emil when he got in to trouble, fantasized about our parents being captains on the high seas and vikings, and dreamt longingly of changing our names to Annika or Ronia.
Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002) was one of Sweden’s most beloved children’s book authors, penning over 50 books. Her stories focused on strong-willed children and young adults, whose outspoken personalities got them in and out of trouble and charming adventures. She masterfully captured that wonderful feeling of invincibility and self-confidence that sparked my imagination when I was growing up, and still inspires my creativity today.
Lindgren created her well-known series, Pippi Longstocking when her daughter asked her to tell her a bedtime story. It’s hard to imagine today, but Pippi actually sparked great controversy when it was released because the main character lives so freely without parental input or discipline. At the time there was a debate in Sweden about the alleged moral decline of its youth, and Lindgren was no doubt aware of this discourse. A psychiatrist even went on to shockingly disclaim Pippi, saying that she behaved as though she was “mentally ill” and that children ran the risk of being inspired by her erratic behavior.
Lindgren responded by saying: “Give children love, more love and still more love – and common sense will come by itself,” defending children’s rights to express themselves and follow their imaginations.
In addition to being a prolific writer, Lindgren was also an activist for children’s and animal rights, worked for Special Intelligence during World War II, was a children’s book editor, and a mother. A self-possessed, independent woman, Astrid Lindgren paved the way for other children’s literature authors, ensuring that their voices are heard and respected.