Everyone knows Pippi Longstocking. (Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraim’s Daughter Longstocking, to be exact.) She’s the character who rocketed Astrid Lindgren into fame. More than any other character Astrid created, Pippi has withstood the test of time.
It’s surprising, then, to look at the list of books Lindgren wrote and realize that Pippi was just one of many series. Pippi is not an overwhelming presence on the list. In fact, there are only three Pippi Longstocking novels! To put that into perspective, that’s how many Bill Bergson books there are. There are more books about Lotta. There are more books about Emil. There are far more international children books that Lindgren wrote with Anna Riwikin-Brick!
While there are many more Pippi picture books than what I have listed on the books page, most of the picture books were adapted from the original Pippi books and can’t be truly counted – they’re like ClifNotes. Even counting the three Pippi picture books that Lindgren wrote, Pippi’s importance far outweighs her page count.
What is it about Pippi Longstocking? Why is she so memorable? What makes this first Pippi book so good?
Maybe it’s because she sleeps with her feet on her pillow.
Maybe it’s because, unlike most other characters, Pippi lives alone: she has all the freedoms that adults have without the adult responsibilities. She has all the freedoms that children have without the children’s responsibilities.
Maybe it’s just because she has a horse and a monkey.
Maybe it’s because she sticks up for people who can’t stick up for themselves.
Maybe it’s because she makes fun of adults without meaning to.
Maybe it’s because she’s self-confident.
Maybe it’s her style that makes us jealous. Can we mismatch our socks, wear gigantic shoes, or wear our hair sticking straight out?
Maybe it’s because she is brave and consistently unafraid.
Maybe it’s because we’d all like to say some of the things Pippi says . . . or do things Pippi does . . . but we don’t have the guts.
Whatever the reason, Pippi Longstocking’s first book is a joy .Pippi Långstrump, the Swedish version, was published in 1945. The translation I read was by Florence Lamborn. The illustrayions by Michael Chesworth are not the pictures I grew up with, so I have a hard time warming to them simply because the art is so different from what I have in my head. There’s nothing wrong with the illustrations of the newer editions; it’s just a personal preference.
Pippi’s stories have now been compiled into a larger book called The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking.
There are so many great scenes, but one of my favorites takes place with Pippi going to school:
“Can Tommy answer this one?” she [the teacher] asked. “If Lisa has seven apples and Axel has nine apples, how many apples do they have together?”
“Yes, you tell, Tommy,” Pippi interrupted, “And tell me too, if Lisa gets a stomache-ache and Axel gets more stomache-ache, whose fault is it and where did they get hold of the apples in the first place?”
The teacher tried to pretend that she hadn’t heard and turned to Annika. “Now, Annika, here’s an example for you: Gustav was with his schoolmates on a picnic. He had a quarter when he started out and seven cents when he got home. How much did he spend?”
“Yes, indeed,” said Pippi, “And I also want to know why he was so extravagant, and if it was pop he bought, and if he washed his ears properly before he left home.”
The teacher decided to give up on arithmetic altogether.