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5 Things you never knew about Astrid Lindgren

5 Things you never knew about Astrid Lindgren

Astrid Lindgren wrote the much loved Pippi Longstocking books, but did you know that she was also a committed activist and defender of children's rights?

To the world, she’s best known for her children’s book Pippi Longstocking, but the rest of Astrid Lindgren’s life was far from boring. The Swedish author was born in 1907 and died in 2002, yet remains one of the most relevant writers of children’s fiction to this day.

Find out five things you never knew about the iconic Swedish children’s book author, Astrid Lindgren, from the heartbreaking story of her first child to her lesser-known works.

Pippi Longstocking was inspired by another famous literary character

Still from Netflix's Anne With An E - Anne sits on a horse and cart with her uncleCredit: Marvin Moore/Netflix. Pippi Longstocking shares her hair colour and precocious nature with the redheaded Anne of Green Gables

Astrid Lindgren’s most-loved character Pippi Longstocking, the red-haired little girl who’s stronger than most and shares a house with a monkey and a horse, actually took inspiration from another well-known literary darling.

When you hear it, it may not come as a surprise, but most people don’t realise that when first writing about Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren took some inspiration from the classic children’s book character Anne of Green Gables.

Similar in the sense that they both have eye-catching red braids, a mind of their own, and were orphans at a young age, the book’s similarities stop at their main characters.

The Pippi Longstocking books are narrated at a faster pace and turn to a younger audience. They also have a more surreal element to them, whereas Anne of Green Gables is strictly realistic, set in a fictional Canadian town rather than a fictional Swedish one.

"Astrid Lindgren took some inspiration from the classic children’s book character Anne of Green Gables"

Astrid Lindgren also took some of her inspiration from her daughter Karin’s childhood friend Sonja. Sonja was a wild little girl, always wreaking havoc at birthday parties, who (just like Pippi) had bright red hair and freckles.

Lindgren took young Sonja under her wing and encouraged her to be her tumultuous, unique self, not letting anyone push her around.

Sonja herself says that Pippi has been one of the most inspiring literary characters to help young girls to develop their own dreams.

She’s written more books than you think…

Astrid Lindgren has written a huge number of children’s and young adult books, far more than most people in the UK are aware of. Pippi Longstocking is just a tiny piece of her huge literary oeuvre.

She’s written no less than 41 illustrated children’s books and 34 chapter books. On top of that, there are a huge number of anthologies and collections of her works published both before and after her death.

More unknown works from Astrid Lindgren include The Brothers Lionheart, Mio’s Kingdom, and Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter, the latter of which has been made into a TV series by world-renowned Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli.

What many of Lindgren’s characters have in common is that they’re often mischievous children, refusing to do what adults tell them to.

Lindgren has been quoted many times talking about how it’s important for her to take the perspective of children, lending them her voice in a world where they don’t always have one.

Her books were considered controversial

When Pippi Longstocking was first published, it caused a huge debate in Sweden regarding what role children’s books play in raising children and whether they should be morally prescriptive.

Many thought the character Pippi was far too wild, breaking rules and even the law, and that the books would encourage children to do similar things.

However, Pippi Longstocking never sparked any children’s riots and is still considered a classic that sits on the shelves of many children around the world, not despite, but because of, Pippi’s refusal to stick to rules and norms.

One of Lindgren's lesser-known titles is Karlsson on the Roof, about a little spiteful middle-aged man with a propeller on his back who one day descends from the roof of a little boy’s house and causes him trouble.

This novel is probably one of the most controversial of Lindgren’s works, as it portrays a character who at points is so severely unlikeable that it can be hard to read.

As late as 2014 the book was up for debate in Russia, where it was to be banned as it, according to some, didn’t portray healthy family values.

She was a single mother

In 1926 Astrid Lindgren, only 19 years old at the time, had to quickly grow up when she found out she was pregnant with her first child, Lasse. In the little Swedish village of Vimmerby, where she was from, this was unacceptable and she had to flee to the capital, Stockholm.

When it was time for her to give birth, she once again had to relocate, this time to Copenhagen, where there was a hospital accepting women giving birth without naming a father.

Without enough money to raise a child, she had to find a Danish family that could take care of her child until she had the resources to look after him in Stockholm.

"Without enough money to raise a child, she had to find a Danish family that could take care of her child"

She was only able to spend the first few weeks of Lasse’s life with him before she had to travel back home to Sweden.

After four years, the mother of the family fell ill and Lindgren had to bring Lasse home. When she picked him up, he broke into heart-breaking silent tears upon realising he would never see his adoptive family again.

Lindgren later said that she would always be haunted by these quiet tears and speculated that it may have been these very tears that made her feel like it was her duty to always side with the children of the world.

She never backed down from a debate

Astrid Lindgren holds a dove on her wrist up to her face with her eyes closedCredit: Jacob Forsell. Lindgren fought her whole life for the rights of children and animals 

Lindgren was not only a writer but was also a strong voice in debates about children’s rights and a renowned pacifist. She fought her entire life for the rights of those that didn’t have a voice, such as children and animals.

When she received the Peace Prize of the German Book trade in 1978, Lindgren made her famous speech "Never Violence!" where she spoke against corporal punishment for children.

"She fought her entire life for the rights of those that didn’t have a voice, such as children and animals"

She also took part in the political debate about marginal tax rates and used the format of a children’s story to shed light on the issue, demonstrating how literature can be a tool not just to entertain but also to drive significant change.

Her contribution to the discussion is thought to have severely affected the outcome of the election of 1976, where the Social Democrats were voted out for the first time in 44 years.

To learn more about Astrid Lindgren, visit astridlindgren.com/en

Banner photo credit: Astrid Lindgren AB 

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