Lotta on Troublemaker Street was published in Swedish in 1962 under the title Lotta pa Brakmakargatan. The translation was done by Gerry Bothmer with pictures by Julie Brinckloe.
This Lotta book is in that funny area between a picture book and a novel; it has chapters, but they are short and feature lots of quirky illustrations. It would be a perfect book for those learning to read chapter books.
In this installment of the Lotta books, Lotta has a bad dream that she confuses with reality. Angry at everyone, she moves out. Living in Mrs. Berg’s shed is fun for awhile until it is dark and she makes peace with her family. It’s funny to watch her family’s reaction to her moving out: they react perfectly, bringing a housewarming gift, talking about the delicious supper they’re about to have, and later playing in their yard where Lotta can see them out the window.
I’m such a huge fan of Bamsie Bear, so of course I enjoyed this description of him: Lotta’s Bamsie was a fat little pig that Mother had made of pink cloth and given to Lotta on her third birthday. Bamsie had been clean and pink then, but now he was dirty and looked like a real little pig. Even so, Lotta was convinced that Bamsie was really a bear and insisted on calling him Bamsie Bear.
“Ha, ha, it isn’t a bear, it’s a pig,” Jonas kept on saying.
“You’re just silly,” said Lotta. [. . .] “He’s a piggly bear.”
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.”
In Lotta’s Bike (Visst kan Lotta cykla, 1971), Lotta turns five years old and wants – spoiler alert – a bike.
Jonas and Maria, her siblings, ride bikes and Lotta wants to be like them. For her birthday she gets lots of fun presents and is content with them until she remembers wanting a bike. She hatches a plan to steal one from Mrs. Berg. It is old and is too big for her and she crashes spectacularly. Mrs. Berg forgives Lotta and helps patch her up. Later on, her father comes home with a used bike he found.
The best part of this Lotta book is how Lindgren captures five-year-old logic and word use. For example, Lotta’s hung up on the word “secretly.” She can “secretly” do anything – go to school, ride a bike like Jonas, have blue eyes instead of green. She doesn’t have a full grasp on the language, but that is what will make children love her so much.
I can find no translator listed for the edition I read, which is too bad, for the fun language suggests a skilled artist crafted it into English. The pictures are once more by Ilon Wiklund, who captures the fine line between simplicity and detail in his works. The picture of Lotta’s bedroom is wonderful – chaotic as a five-year-old’s room should be.
Interestingly, Astrid Lindgren’s Lotta’s Bike Page says that this book was also published under the title Of Course Polly Can Ride a Bike. Big relief for me, as that was one book I’d been unable to track down through the library and to buy it used was looking very expensive ($30+). It’s a pretty unforgivable sin to change Lotta to Polly in any translation, so it’s best if I never see that version in print anyway.
My favorite line: In the street she met the chimney sweep, who had just cleaned Mrs. Berg’s chimney. “I think red bags are nice, don’t you,” she said to him. The chimney sweep thought so, too, and that made Lotta even happier.
Lotta is a fun girl. She’s not as accident-prone as Emil, not as grown-up as Pippi, and not as sweet as the Children of Noisy Village. Yet she has aspects of all these characters in her.
In Lotta’s Easter Surprise (originally Visst ar Lotta en glad unge, 1990), Lotta discovers that the candy store in town is going out of business. Vasilis, the Greek dude who runs the shop, accuses the Swedes of not eating enough candy. He’s heading home. He has a bunch of leftover Christmas candy that he’s going to throw out, so he gives it to Lotta. Lotta hides it.
At home, Lotta later realizes that the Easter bunny won’t be able to visit this year due to the shop closing. In a bold move, Lindgren blows the secrets of Santa and the Easter Bunny in one fell swoop. Lotta decides to share all her Christmas candy from Vasilis and hide it around the yard like the Easter Bunny would do.
This is a sweet book, especially considering Ilon Wikland’s excellent pictures. However, I wouldn’t recommend it for young children because it does blatantly give away secrets that are best not divulged to the intended audience. I’m not sure why Lindgren felt the need to include such details. It seems out of character for Lindgren to take some magic away when all her previous books have worked to pump some magic back into the world.
On a side note, Lotta, Jonas, and Maria dress up as Easter witches and seem to be trick-or-treating during one scene. Turns out this is a thing in Sweden (further information). Who knew?
Best line: Dad was always good to have around, but Lotta didn’t want to have him all mixed up with the Easter bunny and the real Santa.
The Children on Troublemaker Street is where I first met Lotta. Although this story does not focus on Lotta, I will count it as a Lotta book. This is the story of Lotta, Jonas, and Maria (the narrator).
The version I read was translated by Gerry Bothmer with pictures by Ilon Wikland, who I’m coming to regard as the illustrator who best captures the characters that Lindgren creates. Its Swedish title is Barnen pa Brakmakargatan.
The story follows the family throughout a full year of adventures and mischief. None of the adventures are terribly exciting, but when seen through children’s eyes, they are.
One consistent theme that I find in Lindgren’s works is sibling cooperation and love. In every book I’ve read so far, if there are siblings, they love each other and play together with few to no problems. This trio is another example of that flawless camaraderie.
Books like these capture childhood as it once was – a time when children were not attached to screens. Jonas does not have a Nintendo; Maria does not have an iPod. It’s good for our culture to have books like this so we can remember what life was like, back when people actually lived.
“So you’ve been to Mrs. Berg’s?” Mother said. “Was she glad to see you?”
“Oh, yes, answered Jonas. “She was glad twice – first when we came and then when we left.”