My Nightingale is Singing is a terrible book.
If Werner Herzog wrote a children’s book, it would be My Nightingale is Singing.
And you wouldn’t guess it by the title, right? Birds! Singing! Happiness?
I’ve been pretty open about books I don’t like . . . I was not a big fan of the Children of the World series, but that had more to do with it not aging well. This book goes so far beyond those books. I’d rather be subjected to a hundred pages of Randi, Dirk, Matti, Sia, and all those other losers than have to read this book again.
Check out this opening paragraph/sentence: Long ago, in the days of poverty, there was a poorhouse in every parish, where all the poor of the parish lived: the old who could no longer work, the sick, the spent and destitute, the half-crazed, and homeless children whom no one would take care of – all of them gathered together in that place of sighs which was the poorhouse.
It goes downhill from there. Really. It gets MORE DEPRESSING.
Maria’s parents just bit it and so now she’s gotta go live in the poorhouse. Everything just sucks for her. She becomes obsessed with planting a linden tree and having a nightingale come sing. I get it, we all need escape. Especially readers after suffering through this book. Anyway, so Maria gets her tree but it’s not full of life and she realizes she has to give it her breath. And poof, Maria disappears and the tree bursts into full life. Yeah. Whatever. I like trees too, but. . .
The book was originally titled Spelar Min Lind (1984) and was translated by Patricia Crampton. The pictures are by Svend Otto. Presumably everyone involved needed therapy after working on this.
Emil and Piggy Beast (also titled Emil’s Clever Pig) was translated from the Swedish by Michael Heron. The illustrations by Bjorn Berg are perfect for Emil books. It’s reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s stories and the illustrations by Quentin Blake that accompany them.
In this Emil edition, Emil attends an auction and buys a lot of junk (according to his father), but it works out okay in the end.
He also attempts to pull Lina’s bad tooth. I’ve seen another Emil book listed on some Lindgren lists titled Emil and the Bad Tooth. The pagecount on Emil and the Bad Tooth is very short (60 pages) when compared to Emil and Piggy Beast (191 pages). I’m fairly confident that the story itself is the same in either book and that Emil and the Bad Tooth is a short-story or picture book version. I cannot find any information on Emil and the Bad Tooth, so if you know more about it than I do, please let me know.
One of my favorite chapters is titled: “Tuesday, the Tenth of August, When Emil Put the Frog in the Lunch Basket and then Behaved So Badly that I Hardly Dare Write About It.” Lindgren’s voice in these books is phenomenal and a big part of their charm.
Emil also manages to lock his father in the outhouse, get his pig drunk, and save his best buddy Alfred from certain death. (“Sunday, the Eighteenth of December, When Emil Did Such a Noble Deed that the Whole of Lonneberga was Proud of him and all his Past Tricks were Forgiven and Forgotten.”)
I can’t help but agree: “Emil is a dear little boy,” she [Emil’s mom] said. “I know he set fire to the parson’s wife the other day, but he’s already sat in the tool shed for that, and there’s no need for you to carry on about it now.”
Yes, Emil is definitely a dear little boy. He deserves his place alongside Pippi Longstocking as Astrid’s legacy. I can’t remember a series I have enjoyed more than Emil.
A Calf for Christmas (originally Nar backhultarn for till stan, 1951) was translated by Barbara Lucas and illustrated by Marit Tornqvist.
This book tells the story of Johan and his family who have just lost their only cow. They are very poor and losing Emma the cow is a huge deal for them. The local rich guy, on the other hand, has no such misfortune and comes to town to buy a calf. He gets tipsy on the way home and the calf ends up in the ditch where Johan finds her and brings her home. Johan’s father insists on finding its owner, but in the end they can keep the calf. It’s a good lesson on what to do when we find something that isn’t ours and it’s a good lesson on charity.
A Calf for Christmas is a cute story with a happy ending and absolutely gorgeous pictures by Tornqvist. Her style is well-suited to the farm stories (she also illustrated The Day Adam Got Mad/Goran’s Great Escape).
Favorite line: And Johan’s dad spent the whole morning trying to explain to his son that God has other things to do than sit around throwing calves down into country ditches.
Lotta’s Christmas Surprise (in Swedish, Visskt kan Lotta nastan allting, 1977) lists no translator. It’s a pleasant Christmas story about Lotta’s family and the tree shortage in town. Lotta and her siblings Jonas and Maria are incredibly upset that they might not have a Christmas tree. In her usual way, Lotta explores the town and happens upon a Christmas tree.
I have grown to really appreciate Lotta. Her books are frustrating in that they have been released under so many titles. This book was once titled Of Course Polly Can Do Almost Anything. There are multiple editions of most Lotta books, which makes figuring them out really difficult — but they’re so worth it. It’s incredible how Lindgren has captured the joys and sorrows and foibles of such a young child.
One recurring character I’ve enjoyed is Teddy – or, in other Lotta translations, Bamsie Bear – a stuffed pig. I prefer the translation to be Bamsie Bear, because it’s sillier. I wish I knew what the Swedish name for Bamsie Bear/Teddy/the pig is.
This pretty much sums up Lotta’s attitude on everything: “You can come along,” she said to Teddy. “We’ll take the sled and have some fun, even though we’re all miserable.”
Christmas in the Stable (Jul i Stallet 1961), was illustrated by Harald Wiberg in the version I read, though it appears there have been other illustrators. The layout of the story is interesting, because it is a story of a mother telling her daughter a story about Christmas. We never even learn the child’s name; in fact she barely appears in the story. Lindgren has employed this story-within-a-story technique before (Ghost of Skinny Jack comes to mind), but it’s particularly well-done here. Instead of being just another story about Christmas, it has become a story about someone telling a story about Christmas.
It is a very short and utterly inoffensive book.
Favorite line: “There was a Christmas long ago and far away,” she [the mother] said, but the child did not know about long ago and far away. She knew only their own farm and a few yesterdays.
The third and final Pippi novel, Pippi in the South Seas, is a fitting end to the long Pippi tales. It was originally published in 1948 as Pippi Langstrump i Soderhaver. The version I read was translated by Florence Lamborn and illustrated by Michael Chesworth, whose illustrations of Pippi really grew on me. One thing he does really well is capture the feeling of movement in his illustrations.
In this collection of Pippi stories, Pippi explores the neighborhood looking for a spink, cheers up sad schoolchildren, and gets a letter informing her that she must go to the South Seas. Tommy and Annika, long-suffering from sickness, are again heartbroken at the thought of losing Pippi. But somehow, Pippi has convinces their parents to let her take them. On the island they have all kinds of adventures, returning to Villekulla just after Christmas, much to the dismay of her friends. But Pippi, being Pippi, arranges a Christmas feast and party for Tommy and Annika so really, they didn’t miss out. Then she offers them each a magic pill so they will never have to grow up. Readers can only assume that, if the pill worked as promised, the three are still playing in Villa Villekulla to this day.
It’s so hard to pick favorite lines from Pippi’s books because she is witty and wise and ridiculous and true all rolled into one. One of my favorite scenes is this: “Eat your good cereal she [Tommy and Annika’s mother] said.
Annika stirred hers around in the dish with her spoon a bit, but she knew that she just couldn’t get any of it down. “Why do I have to eat it, anyway?” she said complainingly.
“How can you ask anything so stupid?” said Pippi. “Of course you have to eat your good cereal. If you don’t eat your good cereal, then you won’t grow and get big and strong. And if you don’t get big and strong, then you won’t have the strength to force your children, when you have some, to eat their good cereal. No, Annika, that won’t do. Nothing but the most terrible disorder in cereal-eating would come of this if everyone talked like you.”
But I also deeply appreciated this sentence: [Pippi’s pet monkey] Mr. Nilsson, who was sitting on the table and trying to spread butter on his hat, looked up in surprise.
I Want a Brother or Sister is another book featuring Peter and Lena. It was titled in Swedish Jag vill ocksa ha et syskon and published in 1954. In English it appears to have had two titles: the one I read (translated by Eric Bibb) and That’s My Baby. However, because that is not complicated enough, Wikipedia lists both I Want a Brother or Sister and another book titled That’s Not My Baby. After an extensive search, I can find no proof that any Lindgren book called That’s Not My Baby ever existed. The only places I can find any trace of the title online are sites that have copied and pasted the Wikipedia list. (I can tell, because if they include the book Noby Lives in Thailand, it’s clearly been copied and pasted because no such title existed.)
Whatever the title, the story begins before Lena was born when Peter was very little. It explains how Peter wanted a sibling and then regretting it when Lena got so much attention. The book does a great job of explaining Peter’s feelings and why he was acting out. It also shows how great it is to have a sibling once they are old enough to play with. Ilon Wikland captures both children’s rambunctious spirit (in one charming full-page picture of Lena, she’s got her finger digging into her nose). At the end of the book, baby Matt comes into their lives. Peter is not too upset this time around; he has Lena to play with and knows he is loved. Lindgren has created a delightful family with good communication and lots of love to go around.
Peter became one of my favorite characters of all time when he busted out this conversation: “I think you should help me take care of Lena,” said Mama.
“Are we going to throw her out?” asked Peter.