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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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Today I’m continuing my focus on WWII with some tremendous nonfiction I recommend for ages 14 through adult. These riveting titles all address aspects of the courageous resistance to Hitler.

Bomb cover imageBomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin
published in 2012 by Roaring Brook Press

This book!

I have deferred reading this book for several years, even as it has accumulated so many accolades! Newbery Honor. Sibert Medal. Yalsa winner. National Book Award finalist. Sheesh! For some reason, I just couldn’t cook up the interest to read about atomic bombs.

That was a mistake! This is a superb book!

It’s an engrossing account of the world-changing discovery of atom-splitting and the leviathan destruction these minute particles could unleash. Brilliant scientists unveiling realities that shook them to their core. Governments racing to be the first to control these weapons, and thus the world. Spies and counter-spies risking their lives. Americans. Germans. Russians. Explosive tests beyond imagination and unfathomable carnage rained upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

manhattan-project-3

Even if reading that list of ingredients fails to whet your whistle, you must believe me when I say that Steve Sheinkin has accumulated a mammoth amount of information, organized and parsed it out impeccably, sprinkled in just the right amount of asides to bring rays of sunshine to the story, and brought a fascinating human face to this technology-race. I could not put it down. Highly recommended. 236 pages plus photographs and source notes. It deserves every honor it has won.

sabotage cover imageSabotage: The Mission to Destroy Hitler’s Atomic Bomb, by Neal Bascomb
published in 2016 by Arthur A. Levine Books

One of the facets related in Sheinkin’s book is the Nazi-occupation of Norway and control of a plant producing heavy water — the key to Germany’s development of an atomic bomb. It was imperative to slow or stop the Nazis from getting this weapon of mass destruction before the Allies did. To do this, Brits and Norwegian resistance fighters teamed up in an extraordinary series of heroic actions.

While Sheinkin had to treat that as just one factor among many in his book, Bascomb focuses entirely on this amazing episode.  And believe me — there is plenty to tell! The bravery and coolheadedness, audacity and unqualified devotion to their homeland of these young Norwegian men, is far beyond a meek word such as “inspiring.” It’s jaw-dropping. It’s profoundly thought-provoking. Sobering. Captivating.

Saboteurs in the Norwegian resistance

Saboteurs in the Norwegian resistance

At 255 pages, this account is a bit more technical and, obviously, far more detailed than the broader, slightly-more accessible Bomb. For readers hungry for true stories of espionage and bravery, it’s a fabulous choice.

Another plum pick along these same lines is a book I reviewed a while back:

the boys who challenged hitler cover image

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose. You can read my review here.

And a tremendous fictional account based on the Norwegian resistance:

shadow on the mountain cover image

 Shadow on the Mountain, by Margi Preus; read my review here.

we will not be silent cover imageWe Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement that Defied Adolph Hitler, by Russell Freedman
published in 2016 by Clarion Books

“What we have said and what we have written is what so many people believe, only they don’t dare speak up.” These were the unflinching words of Sophie Scholl, age 21, at her 1943 trial in Munich, just hours before she was beheaded for her work in the resistance movement known as the White Rose.

Scholl, her brother Hans, and a cadre of other young German students, lived out their impassioned conviction that Hitler and the Nazi movement must be defied. Having risen through the ranks of the Hitler Youth, they increasingly found themselves disillusioned, and finally at complete odds with the philosophy, the unthinking robotic obedience, and the horrendous crimes against humanity perpetrated by their own government.

hans-and-sophie-scholl

At the risk of their lives, they formed a club known as the White Rose and proceeded to be the voice crying out in the wilderness, calling their countrymen to conscience and resistance. This sobering, powerful account of their young lives and early deaths is exceptionally thought-provoking. Freedman is a non-fiction master. Even with its shorter page count of 87 pages, I consider this material best for ages 14 through adult.

Hitler Youth cover imageA chilling, at times raw, account of the millions of boys and girls swept into Hitler’s Youth and what became of them is given in Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Newbery-Honor, Sibert-Honor title:
Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow, published in 2005 by Scholastic.

The story of the Scholls is woven into that account as well. At 157 gripping pages, it contains the most distressing details of any of the previous titles. Chilling and gripping.

Tomorrow I’ll have some titles geared for younger ages telling brave stories of many people who risked their lives to save the Jews from Hitler’s madness.

 

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