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War Diaries

Image result for astrid lindgren war diaries amazonYes, it has been awhile.

I got this book for Christmas in 2016. Due to a different reading project I was doing in 2017, I didn’t get a chance to actually read it until this month.


For someone (me) who really despises war history in general, these diaries are a way for me to connect with history. To read what Astrid was thinking and feeling about the war and to learn how it affected Sweden and its neighboring countries – what a unique view into history. The little details like what was rationed when and how people reacted to it were my favorite parts — these little pieces of history might be lost to time without these diaries.

It’s fascinating to relive the war in an era before worldwide news on television and the internet. Rumors, who heard what from what source, and of course the letters she read — these were her Twitter. Astrid also freely wrote what she thought of the players involved (“those poor devils!” she writes of the Italians at one point).

Then there’s Astrid-as-an-author and for any fan of her works this diary is important because it all began here: her success with Britt-Mari and later Pippi. English readers don’t know Britt-Mari because for the life of me, I cannot find a translated version of the book (anyone?) but of course we all know Pippi Longstocking. And Pippi was born during the war. In fact, if not for the war, we can assume circumstances would have been different enough that we would never have met Pippi. She would never have existed.

One can’t help but wonder if Pippi’s success – not only with Astrid’s daughter Karin but also the world – was in part because the world needed the kind of chaos that Pippi brings — fun, childish and childlike chaos — as opposed to the years of death, destruction and emotionally-draining chaos the world had been suffering.

Yes, this book drew me in because it’s Astrid’s words — but even if this wasn’t the work of my most favorite author, it would be an incredibly interesting book.


Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter

Astrid_RoniaI saved this book for last because I couldn’t imagine any other book ever living up to it.  Every time I read it, which is every couple of years, I am blown away by how incredible it is.  Really.  If you haven’t read Ronia, go do it.  Now.

Originally Ronja Rovardotter, the book was published in 1981 and translated by Patricia Crampton.  Once upon a time, it was translated as Kirsty the Robber’s Daughter.  Woffor did un do that?  Thankfully, the 1985 translation reverted the name to Ronia.

What is it that makes Ronia the best book?

There is humor: Only Noddle-Pete stubbornly refused to roll in the snow.  “I may die anyway,” he said, “and I want to do it with the dirt I’ve got on me.”

There is wonder: She laughed silently because rivers and forests were there.  She could scarcely believe it.

There is hope: She thought happily before she closed her eyes, Tomorrow I’ll be getting up again!

There is growing up: The world was bigger than Matt.  It was so big that it took your breath away.

There is friendship: She remembered how things had been before, when she was alone and the woods were enough for her.  How long ago that seemed now!  Now she needed Birk to share everything with.

There are troubles with children: “You can’t do anything with children these days. They do as they like – you just have to get used to it.  But it’s not easy.”  (Matt to Borka)

There are struggles: Then Ronia became desperate.  “Life is something you have to take care of — don’t you realize that?”

There is loss: But Matt walked up and down the stone hall weeping mightily and shouting, “He’s always been here!  And now he’s not!”

There are magical creatures: “Woffor did un do that?” say the rumphobs.

There is magic in the forest: The woods in the spring night felt full of secrets, full of magic and other strange and ancient things.  There were dangers there, too, but Ronia was not afraid.

Some combination of all this makes Ronia the most satisfying book I have ever read, and a big part of why I wanted to fully explore all of Astrid Lindgren’s works.

This book concludes the Astrid Lindgren Thru-Read of 2015.  More thoughts on completion will be coming soon.

Children’s Day in Bullerbu

IMG_6935Children’s Day in Bullerbu was the most difficult of all the Noisy Village books to find. Copies of the book surface online, but are expensive – 2 copies on Amazon.co.uk are currently for sale for 113 pounds ($168) – plus shipping.  Huge thanks go out to Saltkråkan AB for finding this book for me to read!

This book (originally Barnens Dag I Bullerbyn, 1966) was translated by David HenryIMG_6926 Wilson and illustrated by Katrin Engelking.   Another version with pictures by Ilon Wikland exists titled A Day At Bullerby, but I read this version.  The book was published in Great Britain in 1967 with reprints in 1974 and 1979.  I don’t think it was ever published in the United States.

This tells the story of when the Bullerby children decide to throw a Children’s Day for little Kerstin.  Kerstin, however, is having none of it.  Every idea they come up with leads to screaming.  Eventually the kids decide to try to replicate a roller coaster.  They tie a rope around Kerstin’s waist and lower her out the window.  This is such a terrible idea.  I had to laugh, because I can’t imagine this being published today, in this litigious age.  Of course, I think it’s great.

The older kids fail to severely maim Kerstin despite their best efforts, and all ends well.  This was my last Noisy Village book, and my second-to-last Astrid Lindgren book overall.  There is definitely some sadness at having finished this series.  I grew to rather like these kids.  Especially when they start dangling toddlers out of the window.

My favorite line: Then Aunt Lisa came and said if we did any more stupid things with Kerstin we could be in for something nasty.



Also, I’m totally amazed by this postage stamp printed from Sweden.  Happy 70th Anniversary, Pippi!

Emil’s Little Sister

Astrid_ELS Emil’s Little Sister is the hardest Emil book to find in America, but I feel so lucky because I was able to read it thanks to Saltkråkan AB who sent me a copy.  I am so grateful!  Thank you, Saltkråkan folks!

This was a wonderful way to end my time with Emil.  I will always go back and revisit, but for now I am finished reading Emil.  This has been my favorite discovery of the whole Lindgren project — finding Emil.  I could read books about Emil forever.

This story features Emil’s sister Ida a little more than the other books, as would be expected with the title.  Its title in Swedish is Nar lilla skulla gora hyss  (1982) and it was translated by David Scott with pictures by the fabulous Bjorn Berg.  Bjorn Berg has done such a consistently great job with Emil’s family.

Ida is envious of Emil’s prowess with pranks and decides that she too wants to make a visit to the woodshed where Emil serves time after he gets into trouble.  Ida goes in search of trouble but has a hard time finding it like Emil.  And even when something is her fault, she doesn’t get blamed!

She and her brother have this funny interaction:

Then Ida’s face lit up like the sun.
“I think I’ve done something naughty,” she said.
“Yes.  You certainly have,” said Emil.
“And I didn’t know it till afterwards,” said Ida.  “What you said is right.  It just happens.”

Skrallan and the Pirates

Astrid_SkrallanThis was one of the hardest books to find until it became one of the easiest.  The difference?  The translation.  At some point, Skrallan and the Pirates ( Skrallan och sjorovarna, 1967) was translated under the title Scrap and the Pirates.  That edition is incredibly rare.  I tried to get it through inter-library loan ten times, but each one was out of state and my requests were all denied.  All the copies for sale online are almost a hundred dollars.

Finally, I discovered that this book was also translated under this title!  Skrallan and the Pirates was not available through the library, but copies were cheap and plentiful online.  I was so happy!

This book is illustrated by Sven-Eric Deler and Stig Hallgren, and the pictures are all in color.  It was translated by Albert Read and Christine Sapieha.

I didn’t know anything about this book when I ordered it.  I was so surprised to open it up and see familiar names: Skrallan and the Pirates follows adventures had on Saltcrow/Seacrow Island!  Having never seen the TV series, I never had seen an image of what the characters look like.  For the first time, I got to see Malin, Melker, and Tjorven!  And Bosun the dog, of course.  It was like visiting old friends that I made while on the island.  It has been a couple months since I read Seacrow Island, but I was able to fall right back into that world.

This is such a fun book to read after having read Seacrow Island.  I never knew if Malin would marry Petter for sure.  It was fun to see them as a family, and fun to see little Pelle, my favorite of Melker’s children.  It’s comforting to know that even if I am not visiting the island, Melker is still being Melker.   As for Skrallan, she gets into all kinds of trouble, as children should on the island.

This is a beautiful book and I’m so grateful to have had the chance to revisit my old friends on the island.  What a wonderful surprise!

I like this bit of wisdom: It’s not much fun being locked up in a dark place.

Simon Small Moves In

Astrid_SSMIThis is one of the Astrid Lindgren books that I had to buy because it wasn’t available anywhere.  Luckily, I found a copy online for very cheap — this is readily available at reasonable prices.  Lucky me!  Lucky everyone!  It’s a delight!

Simon Small Moves In (Nils Karlsson Pyssling Flyttar In, 1956, translated by Marianne Turner) is the story of Nicky (Bertil in the original Swedish) and the tiny Simon Small (or Nils Karlsson Pyssling) told through a fantastic story and Ilon Wikland’s usual wonderful pictures.

This is a thoroughly engaging book, full of whimsy and fun with a hint of real life thrown in: Nicky is sad at the beginning of the story when he thinks about his sister Katy who “was gone now, and Nicky was all alone.”  Through the rest of the book, it becomes apparent that Katy is gone permanently.

When Simon Small shows up, Nicky gains a friend and the satisfaction of finding solutions to Simon’s problems.  Nicky helps Simon procure firewood, food, and furniture (from Katy’s dollhouse).  The two become friends as they fix up Simon’s place.  Nicky is happy and laughing again and so is Simon.

“How long have you lived here?” asked Nicky.
“Oh, just a few days,” said Simon Small.  “I got the place from a town mouse.  She went to live with her sister in the country and I helped her to move her furniture out.  It’s much the best way, to have your own furniture.”

Mardie to the Rescue

Astrid_M2TR Mardie to the Rescue (Madicken och Junibackens Pims, 1976, translated by Patricia Crampton) is the second book about Mardie, which apparently was never released in the United States.  Pictures are by Ilon Wikland.  No surprise — they’re great.

The first Mardie book is a little more whimsical, but I love this book a little more because Astrid Lindgren was not afraid to discuss uncomfortable topics:

  • Mardie’s mother suffers from depression.  “She’s just lying down, feeling sorry for herself.”  Mardie gave a sigh of relief.  Mama did feel sorry for herself from time to time, but it passed over quite soon.
  • Mr Nilsson is an alcoholic: “He never does anything but compeltate and flossifize!  Was he sober?”
    “Yes, I think so,” said Mardie uncertainly.
    “I don’t think so,” said Mrs. Nilsson.
  • Mr. Lindson has mental disorder and lives in the poorhouse and attacks Lisbet.
  • Mattie and Mia live in poverty.
  • The elite make the rules and scorn the working class, such as Mardie’s beloved Alma.

Mardie is one of the only children (maybe the only child) Lindgren wrote about who was clearly from an upper-class family.  She has a dressmaker, live-in help, modest political power due to her father’s job, and lives a much more comfortable life than her friends Abe and Mattie.

Despite being comparatively rich, Mardie in this book blossoms as a generous and caring young girl.  Because of her, Mattie and Mia get de-loused, Abe has the chance to fly, and Abe’s mother sleeps easier at night after Mardie pays off the doctor.  She also includes Lisbet in so many adventures, and their relationship blossoms.

If I could have a sister out of all the characters in Astrid Lindgren’s books, I would pick Lisbet (oh, maybe Tjorven, maybe it’s a tie).  For example, this scene makes me laugh: What Lisbet could not understand was why she not in all the pictures, when Mardie had been one and two years old.  “You couldn’t be there, because you weren’t born, there wasn’t any Lisbet in the whole of Junedale,” said Mardie.  “There wasn’t any you then.”
“Silly thing, of course there was me,” said Lisbet.  “But I didn’t want to sit next to a nasty child like you.  I was at the sweetshop buying sweets.”

Lisbet also collects bad words and climbs into the wardrobe to say them to herself.

But there are also moments of seriousness: The fire and the song and the Spring dusk, oh, how could it be so beautiful and so splendid and so sad?  Mardie was full to bursting with something she could not quite put a name to.  Something which had no name.  Yes, of course, it was life itself she felt, but it was something more as well.

And this line: Imagine anything so wonderful being really true!