Top 100 Children’s Novels #91: Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
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.
Lauren Child has two. One is demure:
One is not.
And here, naturally, is Pippi in Khmer.
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.
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).
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. 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 EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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