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Top 100 Children’s Novels #91: Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

PippiSwedish 206x300 Top 100 Childrens Novels #91: Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren#91 Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (1950)
21 points

This book has such childlike exuberance.  Pippi is someone we’d talk about as if we knew her.  (“And she sleeps with her feet on the pillow!”)  This is a child-sized tall tale. - Sondra Eklund

Pippi, I am pleased to report, is the first book on this list to move up instead of down.  Originally located at #95 it has happily jumped up a square or two to #91.  Why the increased Pippi love?  Well, as much as I’d love to credit the fact that she served as the inspiration for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (true story) it may just be that Sweden’s best known children’s book import contained what I like to call the original child superhero.  She can pick up horses and thieves and live on her own with a monkey.  Though I don’t know how you’d be able to fit a name like Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking into a comic book balloon.  Likewise its Swedish equivalent Pippilotta Viktualia Rullgardina Krusmynta Efraimsdotter Långstrump.

The description of the book from the publisher reads, “The beloved story of a spunky young girl and her hilarious escapades.  Tommy and his sister Annika have a new neighbor, and her name is Pippi Longstocking. She has crazy red pigtails, no parents to tell her what to do, a horse that lives on her porch, and a pet monkey named Mr. Nilsson. Whether Pippi’s scrubbing her floors, doing arithmetic, or stirring things up at a fancy tea party, her flair for the outrageous always seems to lead to another adventure.”

The world of children’s literature owes a debt of gratitude to sick children everywhere.  Without them we might not have half the books that grace our shelves today.  Certainly we wouldn’t have Pippi Longstocking, had it not been for the fact that Astrid Lindgren’s daughter got sick in 1941 and insisted on stories about Pippi.

As The Christian Science Monitor puts it, “Pippi was a hit in the Lindgren household, but although Mrs. Lindgren told the stories regularly at bedtime, she didn’t even bother writing them down. It wasn’t until a few years later that she finally put them on paper. She had wanted the manuscript to be a gift for Karin’s 10th birthday, but she also sent it to a large publishing company. It was rejected.”  When it was accepted by a smaller press Ms. Lindgren wrote books for them and then went to work for them as an editor.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if that happened today?  Step One: Get book contract.  Step Two: Sign book contract.  Step Three: Work for your own publisher and edit other folks and translate books like Curious George into Swedish.

Ms. Lindgren was actually inspired by a different heroine, however.  A Ms. Anne of Green Gables.  Perhaps you’ve heard of her?

According to 100 Best Books for Children by Anita Silvey, the most famous attack on Pippi said of it, “Pippi is something unpleasant that scratches the soul.”  She was the Junie B. Jones of her day, and folks didn’t appreciate her casual disregard for society’s conventions.

At least two books on this Top 100 list have helped inspire their own theme parks.  I doubt you would have guessed off the top of your head that one of them was Astrid Lindgren’s World in Vimmerby, Sweden, though.

I don’t like to recommend that one look at Wikipedia for much, but the collection of different Pippi Longstocking names from around the globe is more than a little amusing.  You can find it here near the bottom.  Nice touch with the pig latin.

Also, be very careful of the translation you receive.  Donna Cardon in School Library Journal considered a recent reissue with illustrations by Lauren Child and made this excellent point: “Nunnally updates some of Florence Lamborn’s old-fashioned phrases and makes other terms more politically correct. For example, the original English translation calls Pippi’s father a “Cannibal King,” while this one calls him a “King of Natives.” In Lamborn’s version, Pippi goes for a “morning promenade”; here, she simply goes for a “morning walk.” Nunnally’s language flows naturally and gives a fresh, modern feel to the line drawings, filled with color and pattern, to create a Pippi who is full of personality . . . Libraries should consider archiving (or retiring) older editions of this old favorite, and replacing them with this new offering.”

Her covers vary widely.

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Lauren Child has two.  One is demure:

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One is not.

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And here, naturally, is Pippi in Khmer.

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Artist and former Books of Wonder employee Nicole Johnston created her own Pippi cover, and it may well be my favorite.  It just gets everything right.  Her pose, the single dark stocking, the monkey, the treasure.  Everything.  Heck, she’s posing at the “P” itself!  Somebody hand that woman a book contract to do ALL the titles on this Top 100 list.  Gal’s got talent.

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And here’s an image of her I particularly like by Derek Kirk Kim (the fellow who collaborated with Gene Yang on that great graphic novel The Eternal Smile in 2009 and who wrote the fantastic Same Difference).

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Now Pippi has been turned into everything from movies to television shows to staged productions.  I saw the American film as a kid and when my brain is feeling particularly hateful it plays this song:

*shudder*

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Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of NYPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Louise says:

    OK, that song is just PAINFUL. I couldn’t listen to more than the first 30 seconds (although my three year old just piped up “that was a nice song” behind me, which means clearly we need to work on her music appreciation skills).

    I’ve always loved Pippi. Her spunk, the way she brightened up Tommy and Annika’s mundane life, the fact that she just assumed everyone was a friend (even if they most decidedly were NOT), her independence but the fact that she still loved her papa dearly … aw, she was just grand.

    Not sure how I feel about updated language, to be honest. I think half of Pippi’s charm was that she was this completely outrageous girl in a very prim-and-proper place and time, and the old-fashioned language reinforces that. Change that, and I think you lose something from the story itself.

  2. I haven’t read the new translation–we have it, but I just haven’t read it. Cannibal King vs. King of the Natives? OK, I don’t have a problem with that. But morning promenade vs. morning walk? I rather like the sound of a morning promenade. Oh, well.

  3. Genevieve says:

    That is not the Pippi Longstocking song I remember from the movies! Wonder if it was an earlier one, or elsewhere in this film? I just remember her singing “I am Pip-pi Longgggstocking, how I love my funny na-ame-o!”

    I like morning promenade too. But otherwise, fresher language in the translation might be good.

  4. Greg Holch says:

    “Cannibal King” resonated with my third grade brain in all sorts of creative ways that “King of the Natives” never would have.

    The whole book is about a girl who shocks adults and charms children. It almost seems as if the new edition takes the side of the adults.

    I wonder what words Astrid Lindgren really used.

  5. DaNae says:

    Pippi had everything I wanted as a kid: super strength, her own house, a chest full of gold and best of all a monkey.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Owwww, that movie is AWFUL!! You have to watch the original movies with Inger Nilsson. Even though the dubbing is a little off, they’re so much better! Google “har kommer pippi langstrump” and you’ll get the REAL theme song!

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