Astrid Lindgren - Beloved Swedish Children's Author

Astrid at the desk

When I was invited by the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council to cover the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Awards I had no idea of the wonderful enlightening events which lay ahead of me. I was to get to know two amazing, heroic women, one sadly no longer with us, and the other, with much yet to give to the world.

As in my past visits to Sweden, the Stockholm Visitors Board made sure that I was well-informed and prepared for my visit. The friendly knowledgeable guides had everything planned to supply me with the information and experiences needed to educated me on this memorable trip. This amazing opportunity included a two day discovery tour to learn about Astrid Lindgren and to attend this years Astrid Lindgren Memorial Awards. For more about the awards and this years gifted recipient Lygia Bojunga. Click here to go to that article. I was also privileged to be invited on this trip to attend the Polar Music Prize Awards presented to B.B. King and György Ligeti. Click here to go to the Polar Music Prize article.

I would like to tell you a little about Astrid Lindgren. She was born on November 14th 1907, a truly amazing woman, unique and ahead of her time. Known for always seeing things from a child's point of view, she wrote over 100 books which were translated into over 90 languages, including Zulu. There were around 40 films and television series that have been based on her works.

 

 

 

Pippi Longstocking

In the United States, her most famous books are the red-haired Pippi Longstocking, the mischievous Emil, and Ronia, the Robbers Daughter. The most famous of these, Pippi Longstocking, she wrote in 1945 as a present for her daughter Karin. Ill with pneumonia she asked her mother to tell her a fairy tale, Lindgren recounted "I asked her what about, and she said 'about Pippi Longstocking',  So I did. And since it was a strange name, she also became a strange girl". Pippi had distinctive red pigtails and mismatched stockings, and was possessed of enormous physical strength. She lived alone in a big house with her horse, an ape called Mr. Nilsson and a treasure chest full of gold.

 

 

Lindgren, who had fallen on some snow in Vasa Park in central Stockholm, was forced to stay home while her foot healed, and in a true example of turning lemons into lemonade, she used that time as an opportunity to write down the story of Pippi. By now she had been telling not only Karin, but all Karin's friends the story as it had become quite popular. This simple event was the start of an amazing career which has been a positive influence on millions of children and adults.

It was now time for Lindgren to go off and find a publisher. She first went to the largest, Bonnier. Gerard Bonnier, the publisher was disturbed; "Sugar on the floor and uproar in the children's room? No, I didn't dare take responsibility for that." He confessed this many years after Bonniers made its biggest mistake: turning down one of the world's most popular children's books. After being turned down by Bonnier, Lindgren then took her transcript to a publisher on the verge of bankruptcy, Rabén & Sjögren, who today, thanks to Lindgren, is Sweden's leading publisher of children's books.

Lindgren's home some of her books

Pippi Longstocking was published by Rabén & Sjögren in 1945. Success was immediate, so was the outcry. Parents and Teachers were furious. Critics warned of a collapse of public morals. How could Pippi Longstocking be so dangerous? She made her debut at a time when girls were supposed to do embroidery, tuck their dolls into bed, and have pretty bows in their hair. Children were expected to obey without question. Pippi on the other hand, jumped, totally without permission, right in the world of boys and grown-ups. She was quick-witted and full of self-confidence. She would give her opinion on anything to anyone at all. Pippi would never just sit and wait for her prince to come on his white stallion. She had her own horse that she could even pick up and carry.

With Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren revolutionized children's literature, not just in Sweden, but across the whole world.

Lindgren's home looking into office

Her first book that was published was a story for teen-age girls called "Britt-Mari Opens Her Heart." It won second place in a literature competition in 1944. Pippi Longstocking took first prize in the same competition the next year.  Lindgren was awarded dozens of Swedish and international prizes for her books, among these awards and widely considered the ultimate accolade for an author of children's books, was the Hans Christian Andersen medal, which she won in 1958. Another award of great honor, the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, was awarded to Lindgren in 1973, in recognition of the Pippi stories. in 1994 she received the Right Livelihood Award (also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize) "...For her commitment to justice, non-violence and understanding of minorities as well as her love and caring for nature."

Lindgren's home photo, she loved animals

Not only an author but a humanitarian, Lindgren defended children's rights and animal welfare. In 1998 she lobbied an animal rights bill into law. That same year the Astrid Lindgren's Children's Hospital opened, and is one of the biggest children hospitals in northern Europe.

Now back to my remarkable trip. Brigitta Jansson of the Stockholm Visitors Board arranged for me to meet with and participate in a round table discussion with three other journalists and Lena Trönqvist.

Lena told us about Astrid Lindgren World which opened in 1981 in Lindgren's  hometown of Vimmerby. Because of Astrid Lindgren's immense popularity, 380,000 people a year visit this tiny community of only 8,000, 75% are foreigners and most of these are from

One of the few statues of Lindgren

Germany.  In fact there are many schools in Germany, more than in Sweden, named for Lindgren. The money brought in from tourism is not put into Astrid Lindgren World and there is now a discussion going on as to what should be done with these profits. This fairy tale world based upon her stories, displays several of the settings from her books. It is designed as a place where the young and young at heart can meet all the famous much loved characters from her stories, including Pippi Longstocking, Emil in Lönneberga, Karlsson on the Roof, Ronia the Robbers Daughter and many more. One can also relive several of the episodes from her books and listen to some of the delightful songs and ballads for which she wrote the lyrics.

 

Lindgren's daughter Karin next to bust of her mother

Lena, along with four other women including Astrid Lindgren's daughter Karin Nyman, are a volunteer group that makes sure that all activities at Astrid Lindgren World would be as Astrid herself would have wanted them. The rules of this committee allow for any one of the women to cast a veto and that veto will squash the idea or project, but for the last ten years, there has amazingly, never been a single veto, intense discussions, but no vetoes (our government could learn something from these five women.)

Currently Lena is working on trying to turn the Rectory near Lindgrens childhood home, a Rectory her father was involved with, into a Museum. She is also in charge of sorting and cataloging all of Lindgrens letters, notes, photos, everything, and this is a monumental task because Lindgren kept absolutely everything. She received hundreds of letters every day, and she kept them all as well as 400 manuscripts, notebooks, and more. But don't get excited, everything has been published, there are no missing manuscripts.

Lindgren's home - living room

The next stop was for me, the greatest honor of the entire trip. I along with only two other journalists, was given the rare opportunity to visit the modest apartment Astrid Lindgren called home for the last 61 years of her life, and to meet and interview Karin, Lindgren's wonderful daughter. Although no one currently lives there, the apartment is still a private home and not open to the public. .

 

Karin and me in the living room

This visit was incredible! I had already been told by many people that Karin not only sounds like, but looks and acts like her mother. In speaking with Karin, it was as if I was visiting with Astrid Lindgren herself.

 

 

Desk with reading glasses and typewriter

The home is as it was while Lindgren was alive, nothing has been changed. To stand before the very desk where she sat, her desk, still holding the typewriter that she used to create her magical stories, to see her various reading and magnifying glasses which she needed as her eyesight deteriorated; to be able to look out the very window she looked out, seeing the same view that inspired her as she wrote her many books, was indeed a moving experience. It was magical, here I was in Astrid Lindgren's home with her daughter taking the time to answer any questions I had, I felt privileged indeed.  

 

 

 

 

Table with typewriter looking out at the park

 

Karin shared with me that in the morning her mother would lay in bed, still in her pajama's, and create her stories from about 10 AM until noon in her special shorthand, writing not able to be understood by anyone but her. 

Karin at the desk explaing things

She would then move to her typewriter, where she would type up her notes. It was very touching when Karin said "it still feels like mom is in the apartment since nothing has changed."

Although it was not widely know until much later in her life, Lindgren at age 19, became a single mother. She choose to go to Denmark to give birth to her son because in 1926 it had the only hospital in all of Scandinavia that did require the name of the father. The societies view at this time was very different from today's liberal view. Her son was placed into a foster home for three years until Lindgren was married and could bring him back to her own home. Lindgren herself, had a very close relationship with her own father and therefore know what her son was missing not having a father. It is of interest that she seemed to have great guilt about having to leave her son and many of the themes of her books are about lost and abandoned boys and strong girls..

Dinning room where meeting are now held

During her lifetime, Lindgren had earned a great deal of money however money was never important to her. Karin said that money made her mother nervous. She gave away lots of money, to individuals and to charities, she also paid lots of taxes. In 1976 she actually paid 102% in taxes. In part, because of policies of this type, she helped to get the Social Democrats to loose the election, the first time they had lost an election in 40 years. What was important to Astrid Lindgren were children, animals, and assuring that both were able to have a higher quality of life. Also important, were her family and close friends. She spoke with her sisters every day and because they were very old, they started every conversation out with the words, "death, death, death", with that reality over with they went on with their conversation.

 

Kitchen

Karin recalled that her mother was not in love with men much, she was in love with children, and she loved Christmas but spent New Years alone at her summer house outside of Stockholm in the Archipelago. She had a large social circle but was a very private person. As a mother she was not very strict, she was a very loving mother and her children were made to feel very important from the unconditional love she gave them. She loved to play with the children and as Karin put it "she was very good at playing." When other parents would watch their children play in a sandbox, she would get into the sandbox along with the children. She would climb trees with them and often tear her dress. As a child she would read books and play all the parts. A woman unimpressed by her own fame and fortune who never wanted the spotlight, she made sure to widen the beam to include many others. 

Her daily routine included walking, she loved to walk to Rabén & Sjögren publishing house, and the publisher of her own books where she did editing until late in her life. She also loved taking taxis in order to be able to talk with the drivers. She did not like the movie Pippi Longstocking. Her favorite book was Rasmus and the Tramp and Emil was her favorite character Due to her humble nature she rejected the many offers of statues in her honor other than a few small ones which she did not actually like. People see parallels in her books to bible stories, although Lindgren herself proclaimed to be an agnostic. She was looked up to by many as a wise woman, not just an author.

 

In her later years her eyesight and hearing deteriorated and she began to find writing "a huge assignment." In 1987 she submitted her last manuscript, a short mystery story.  She spent her last remaining years in the modest apartment in Stockholm where she had lived all her adult life. For the last two years of her life, she had people living with her. She was very tired and had several small strokes.

 

Astrid Lindgren's bedroom where she passed away

 

Astrid Lindgren died at age 94 on January 28th 2002. She lost her husband in 1952, and her only son, Lars, had died of a brain tumor, at 60 years of age in 1986, leaving only her daughter Karin and 7 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren to carry on her legacy. 

Click here for more information on Astrid Lindgren.

 

 

 

Most of the photographs were taken using: the Olympus C-770 Ultra Zoom Digital Camera Click here to go to my review of the Olympus C-770 Ultra Zoom Digital Camera and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V1 Digital Camera Click here to go to my review of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V1 Digital Camera.

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