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war-diaries-1939-1945-cover-imageWar Diaries, 1939-1945, written by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated with family photos
first published in Sweden, 2015; first U.S. edition published in 2016 by Yale University Press

When I first heard late last year that Astrid Lindgren’s diaries from the World War II years were being published in the U.S., all my must-read buttons began flashing at once! Now I’ve read it, I want to pass on to you this remarkable piece of adult non-fiction.

Lindgren is Sweden’s most famous children’s author. Many

Astrid Lindgren Foto: Jacob Forsell Kod: 14 COPYRIGHT PRESSENS BILD

Astrid Lindgren Foto: Jacob Forsell Kod: 14
COPYRIGHT PRESSENS BILD

Americans are sadly limited in their familiarity with her books, Pippi Longstocking being the only title immediately connected with her. Lindgren, though, has written dozens of wonderful stories, many of which have been translated. In fact, almost 100 different languages host at least one of her works.  In addition, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award is among the most prestigious awards in children’s literature worldwide. You can read all about it here.

So, of course, as a lover of children’s literature, I am fond beyond words of Lindgren. Our family has immensely enjoyed reading aloud many of her books and we treasure our common memories of feisty Lotta, daring Bill Bergson, those darling children of Noisy Village, intrepid Ronia, and other equally vivid characters.

Christmas in Noisy Village

Christmas in Noisy Village

That’s what initially drew me to this compilation of her diary entries from 1939-1945, but what I read there goes far, far beyond children’s literature. Honestly, one gets only a glimmer of the beginnings of Lindgren’s illustrious, unexpected career in children’s literature. A glimpse of the publication of her first book, passing mentions of Pippi being written, and her surprise at Pippi’s reception are all tantalizing to come across.

Finnish victory, WWII

Finnish victory, WWII

What took me by surprise was how engrossing it is to read about World War II from a Swedish perspective. Lindgren was deeply thoughtful about the politics and maneuverings of the Scandinavian countries throughout the war. The plight of Finland, in particular, is largely overlooked in American histories, and as a person with Swede-Finn heritage, I was grateful to read about Finland’s intense and heroic plight, squeezed as they were between Stalin and Hitler. Norwegian resistance, Danish resistance, her unease over neutrality and unique perspective on what she believed was gained by that, the massive numbers of refugees welcomed by Sweden during the war — all of this captivated me.

Lindgren’s heart ached when confronted with the immense human toll of the war on populations across Europe. Her entries lament over the vast numbers of hungry and starving civilians, communities ravaged by both Russian and German armies, Jews who were harassed out of their homelands (though she was long unaware of the full extent of the Holocaust), Norwegians executed for their resistance, and German soldiers as well, fighting a war she guessed many of them did not believe in, an extraordinary perspective for someone in the midst of this carnage.

Astrid's war diary

Astrid’s war diary

Because she was employed by the Swedish government as a censor, Lindgren’s work involved reading personal letters written from all areas of Europe by ordinary people struggling to cope with war, loss, and simply putting food on the table. This gave Lindgren a much broader understanding of the impact of the war.  Given the global humanitarian crisis in our world just now, this is a timely read.

Whether you pick it up as a children’s literature aficionado, a fellow Scandinavian, or a history buff, then, you’ll find a great deal to love about this remarkable, personal narrative of those strenuous years.

I decided to re-read Pippi Longstocking in light of this new, fuller understanding of both Lindgren and the context in which she wrote the book. My copy is this wildly colorful edition illustrated by Lauren Child, published by Viking in 2007.

pippi-longstocking-cover-image

I love the effervescent spunk Child introduces to the text through her explosive, personality-laden collages, and the clever manipulation of type to highlight particular shenanigans.

What I discovered was that knowing the circumstances of Lindgren’s life when she wrote Pippi, and the origins of it as bedtime stories for her daughter, made all the difference in how it reads!

What jumps off the page is the obvious appeal of what began as story-spinning for her young daughter, then for many more neighborhood children. Certainly these fantastical adventures and silly stories brought fresh vision and happy thoughts into the hearts of children, some of whom were terribly burdened with anxiety.

pippi-longstocking-illustration2-lauren-child

The life of Pippi is not only chock-full of giggleworthy episodes, it is one with no stultifying rules during a period of annoying rationing and ham-fisted Nazi demands. Free as a bird, she is. Despite having no parents, Pippi is a strong, hopeful, self-sufficient girl. No need to worry about her! In one telling incident, Pippi attends the circus and accepts the ringmaster’s challenge to defeat the strongest man in the world, a fellow not-coincidentally named Strong Adolf. Pippi neatly pins him to the mat in one blink of an eye. Immensely satisfying. European children during WWII had to rise above their circumstances in heroic proportions, and Pippi was certainly a plucky role model.

pippi-longstocking-illustration-lauren-child

Bits and pieces from the Lindgren’s Swedish household are scattered throughout the story, too. Wouldn’t you do that, if you were spinning stories for your child? Coffee is drunk  commodiously! Heart-shaped gingersnaps, August pears, sugared pancakes — lots of delicious food comes to play in this story. Household chores, pippi-longstocking-illustration-detail-lauren-childoutdoor play, making music by blowing on a comb (a trick my Swedish grandfather taught me once upon a time) — choice elements of ordinary life are effortlessly woven into the fantasy.

If you’ve never read Pippi, you really should consider it. It’s a delightful read-aloud for children ages 4 and up. If it has been awhile since you read it, I think you’d enjoy giving it another read keeping in mind the world in which Pippi was born.

Here are Amazon links for both books. I keep forgetting to put these in! I am an Amazon Associate meaning you can do me a favor by clicking through a link on my blog before purchasing something from Amazon. I get a little dab from them each time that happens. Thanks!

Astrid Lindgren’s War Diaries 1939-1945

Pippi Longstocking

 

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My heritage is Swedish. 

On both my father’s and mother’s side, the aromas of coffee and cardamom bread and the sounds of Swedish hymns are mingled with memories of grandparents.  I remember sitting in the rocking chair on my grandmother’s sunny porch, listening to my dad read stories in Swedish about the tomten, as well as deep familiarity with the entire shelf of Flicka, Ricka and Dicka, and Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr at my small, northern Minnesota library.  There are quite a number of Swedish authors whose work has been translated into English.  Today, I’m featuring  just five of these beloved authors:

The Children of Noisy Village, by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Ilon Wikland

Astrid Lindgren is perhaps the most famous Swedish children’s author.  In the U.S., she is known chiefly as the creator of Pippi Longstocking, an iconic character in children’s literature.  Yet, if this is the extent of your knowledge of Lindgren’s books, you are truly missing out.

We have enjoyed so many of Lindgren’s books, it’s hard to pick just one for the blog, but I’ve chosen The Children of Noisy Village, an extraordinarily appealing book for ages 5 and up. 

The Children of Noisy Village is a short-ish chapter book featuring six Swedish schoolchildren who live on three neighboring farms in the pleasant Swedish countryside.  Lisa and Karl, Britta and Anna, and Olaf lead a fairly idyllic life, and these chapters follow them through one delightful year.  Crayfishing with their fathers at their camp on the lake, a New Year’s party with a special lead-melting game, Christmas and Easter and birthdays, each is charmingly narrated by nine-year-old Lisa, as well as many other everyday escapades.  The overall feel is one of warmth, simple joys, healthy independence, lively imaginations, and loving families.

Ilon Wikland is a superb illustrator, born in Estonia but living in Sweden from her teen-age years.  She has illustrated many of Lindgren’s books with her charming, fetching style that perfectly captures the happy, sunny personalities of the characters and their setting. There are several other volumes of Noisy Village stories if you fall in love with these, as we have.

Pelle’s New Suit, written and illustrated by Elsa Beskow

Elsa Beskow is another of the most well-loved Swedish author/illustrators, who began her prolific career just prior to 1900.  Although some of her titles date back over a century, a good number are still in print and easy to locate.

Pelle’s New Suit is a picture book about a little boy, Pelle, who has outgrown his short brown jacket and breeches.  Pelle solves that problem quite industriously,  beginning by shearing his own lamb.  He takes the wool to his darling grandmother, who agrees to card it if Pelle will weed her carrot patch.  Pelle continues to barter labor for labor as we see the wool spun, dyed, woven, and sewn, until finally Pelle’s handsome new blue suit is ready for him. 

Beskow’s illustrations are incredibly charming, depicting pastoral Swedish landscapes with birch trees in green meadows; colorful interiors of Swedish cottages with painted wood furniture and striped, woven rugs; tow-headed children in bare feet and women in full aprons.  Each painting presents a sunny, nostalgic, Scandinavian scene.  Once you’re acquainted with her work, you’ll likely reach for more, and there are plenty of titles to choose from. 

Finn Family Moomintroll, written and illustrated by Tove Jansson

Okay, Tove Jansson was not a Swedish author.  She was Finnish.  But, Tove Jansson was a Swede-Finn, which is also a segment of my heritage.  This means she was part of a small population of Swedish-speaking Finnish citizens, and all her Moomintroll books were originally written in Swedish.  So, she gets to be part of today’s list.

Jansson is one of the most well-known Finnish writers, mainly because of the delightful, whimsical, eccentric, engaging characters she created who populate the world of the Moomins.  There are numerous volumes of Moomin lore, but I’ve chosen Finn Family Moomintroll as a good jumping-off point for those of you still uninitiated into Moomin culture.

So, what is a Moomin?  Well, it’s a little creature that looks like this:
Generally small and plump.  Kind-hearted.  They sleep all winter long.

Moominpappa, Moominmamma, and Moomintroll abide in a loving. welcoming household in Moominvalley.  It is their doings and musings which form the basic skeleton of the plots in Janson’s amusing adventures.  The plotlines, however, rove and meander into many offbeat little areas along the way, and encompass a cast of characters unlike any others you’ve met:  beautiful, but slightly-ditzy Snork Maiden, tart and brash Little My, adventurous Snufkin and a crowd of ghostly, mushroomlike Hattifattners, confused Thingummy and Bob, the cold and creepy Groke…all these and many, many more pop up in one or more volumes of Moomin stories.

Finn Family Moomintroll introduces some of these characters, though the introductions in any case are not exactly formal.  Suddenly a new character is there, complete with a backstory, and it is up to you to embrace him or her as a long-lost friend.  The plotline in this book follows the Hobgoblin’s magical hat, which causes all kinds of excitement and surprise for the Moomins and their friends.

Great little fantasies for young elementary on up through adult.  A couple of the titles have plots that are hazier and more philosophical, but Comet in Moominland and Moominsummer Madness are fantastic follow-ups to this title.  We adore the Moomins.

Stina, written and illustrated by Lena Anderson

Lena Anderson is a superb illustrator who has also written numerous children’s books.  She is probably best known in the U.S. for her illustrations of Linnea in Monet’s Garden (co-authored with Christina Björk.)  I’ve seen her referred to as Sweden’s “modern Elsa Beskow,” but had a terrible time finding out very much about her.  One of her books that we’ve adored for years is Stina.

Stina is a plucky, white-blonde, girl who is lucky enough to visit her dear grandpa in his house by the sea every summer.  There, they arise early in the morning for coffee by the glass-smooth waters of the sea, then head out in the wooden fishing dory to check Grandpa’s nets.  Stina ambles along the rocky coast collecting treasures washed ashore by the waves, and the two of them eat fresh fish at the picnic table each evening, with the gulls ever near hoping for pickings.  Gah.  What a lovely set of days.  The trouble comes when Stina decides to get an up-close look at the sea during a storm, but gets a bit more wet wildness than she bargains for.  Grandpa’s response to her calamity is one of my very favorites in children’s literature.  I love him!

Anderson’s watercolors are exquisite.  Light soaked, clear…I can feel the calming serenity of open water, smell the slightly fishy sea air, feel the cool fresh air on my face, just looking at these pictures.  And Stina and Grandpa?  Simply beautiful people.  There is a sequel called Stina’s Visit which is just as sweet.  Then, search out other titles by Anderson for more fresh, charming, wonderfulness.

The Ditch Picnic, by Edith Unnerstad, illustrated by Ylva Källström

Unnerstad is another Finnish writer, who moved to Sweden early in life and wrote her many, many children’s stories in Swedish.  Some of her most famous books revolve around the Pip-Larsson family, a large, active group whose adventures actually became a television series.  I’ve chosen a much less familiar picture book of hers for the last book in the blog today.

The Ditch Picnic is the story of four happy, independent children, plus a dog and cat, who set out one fine day on a long walk to the woods for a picnic.  Mother puts together one uncommonly delicious spread, with stacks of sandwiches and sausages, waffles with jam and sugar, bottles of soda, and even goodies for the pets.  The two girls in this foursome are quite ladylike, dressed in charming skirts and pushing the perambulator with the dolls.  They are secretly looking forward to a special make-believe time with the added finery they’ve tucked into the pram, while the boys go off  hunting wolves in the forest.  Plans go awry, however, when the boys become tired of lugging the picnic and the four settle for a jolly picnic just in the ditch along the edge of the path.

The carefree joys of children and sunshine and picnics and freedom bubble up from this charming story.  In addition, the illustrations are cheery, bright glimpses of barefoot kids and wild strawberries, red checkered tablecloths and Queen Anne’s lace — all the best ingredients of childhood.

Here are Amazon links for these titles:
The Children of Noisy Village
Pelle’s New Suit
Finn Family Moomintroll (Moomintrolls)
Stina
THE DITCH PICNIC

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