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Astrid Lindgren - Children's Author and Activist

Pippi in Villa Villekulla

Pippi in Villa Villekulla

“My biggest love relations have always been the children [...] I’m more a mother than anything else, so I have had more happiness from my children.” Astrid 1993


Astrid Lindgren was a Swedish children’s fiction author and, by default, a children’s rights activist. If Astrid hadn’t lived, many children would have died before their time, and Sweden wouldn’t have been the first in the world to ban corporal punishment.

Astrid famously said, “give children love, more love and then some more love and common sense will come by itself.”

Even in today’s world, this is still a radical idea. Astrid was an authentic parent and a visionary.

The fact that Astrid Lindgren never got the Nobel Prize in Literature is a testament to our ignorance of children’s literature. Children’s literature is life-changing, and Astrid didn’t just change lives; she saved lives.

So why don’t we respect authors of children’s literature? Because we don’t respect children. We think we do, but we don’t. We don’t trust children and don’t love children enough, not as much as children need to grow up well. Astrid knew all this, and she became like a child when she wrote; that ability and her love for children was her power.

Astrid Lindgren has sold 144 million books worldwide. Astrid is the world’s 18th most translated author and the 3rd most translated children’s author after Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm.

Astrid's Early Life

Astrid was born in Vimmerby in the south of Sweden in 1907 to farmer parents Samuel and Hanna. She played from morning to night with her three siblings, but they also had to help out on the farm.

The beautiful surroundings assisted their imaginary play: carpets of wildflowers, wild strawberry meadows, moss-covered stones and hollow trees in the forest.

Astrid was good at writing in school, and one of her stories was published in the local newspaper when she was thirteen. At seventeen, Astrid started to work for the same newspaper. She left two years later, pregnant with the married editor in chief of the newspaper. Astrid travelled to Copenhagen to have her baby there and also found a foster family for her son.

Astrid moved to Stockholm, where she learned shorthand typing and worked as a secretary at the Royal Automobile Club. Here, she met Sture, a married man going through a divorce and when it was finalised, they married, and Astrid could finally bring Lars home. The 3-year long separation cemented Astrid’s defence of children’s rights for life.

She bravely walked through the streets of Vimmerby, holding hands with her illegitimate son showing everyone the miracle she thought he was.

She left work when she became pregnant again, but she still earned money writing short stories for a magazine.

At the end of the 1930s, when Astrid was 32, she started to work as a stenographer for a professor in criminology. Astrid absorbed knowledge for her story about a master detective during dictation.

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In the summer of 1940, Astrid was offered a non-official, top-secret job for the Special Intelligence Agency. She had to read foreign correspondence and military mail in the mail censorship office. Some of what she learned made its way into her wartime diaries that have just been published. Astrid was accused of being a spy, but her wartime diaries show that she was a truth seeker concerned about the suffering of innocent people.

Pippi Longstocking

During those years, she invented the character Pippi. Her daughter Karin created the name:

“Tell me about Pippi Longstocking,” Karin demanded, inventing the name on the spot as she lay sick in bed and wanted her mum to tell her a story. Astrid thought that with such an unusual name, she had to come up with an extraordinary girl.

Here’s a favourite excerpt from “Pippi plays tag with policemen”

“Are you the girl who’s moved into Villekulla Cottage?” asked one of the policemen.

“Not me!” said Pippi. I’m her very small aunt who lives on the third floor at the other end of the town.” She only said this because she wanted to have a bit of fun with the policemen. But they didn’t think it was the least bit funny. They told her not to try to be so clever. And then they explained that kind people in the town had arranged for her to be placed in a Children’s Home.

“I’m already in a Children’s Home,” said Pippi.

“What’s that? Is it already arranged?” asked the policemen. “Which Children’s Home is that?”

“This one,” said Pippi proudly. “I’m a child, and this is my home. There aren’t any grown-ups living here, so I think that makes it a Children’s Home.”

Source: Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

She eventually started to write down the many stories of Pippi she invented for Karin, but Pippi wasn’t her first book. Astrid won second prize in a writing competition with her debut book, “Britt-Mari Lättar Sitt Hjärta,” which was published in 1944 but was never translated.

In 1945, she won first prize in a writing competition held by a new publishing house, with the manuscript to Pippi Longstocking. Pippi had previously been rejected by the publishing company that published her debut book. Adults were outraged by Pippi, but children loved her.

A Playful Mother

Her own children loved having a mother who wasn’t like other parents. She wanted to play too, and she invented the most outrageous games, and she didn’t stop; her grandchildren also knew that Astrid loved spending time playing with them.

Astrid had two loves in her life, her family and her writing, and she was blessed with the ability to balance the two.

Astrid had many friends, but it wasn’t just people close to her who loved her; strangers felt special when meeting Astrid.

“Each and every person is remarkable. I can meet individuals in the street and find every one of them interesting. They’re all fantastic!”

Astrid had a dual role at her publisher: author and editor/publisher, and she worked there for 25 years, inspiring and helping many new writers. She also influenced public opinion on many issues, but her standout battle was for every child’s right to love and security.

Never Violence

Unfortunately, her speech, Never Violence, is not part of history’s greatest speeches yet, but it should be. Astrid had won The German Bookseller’s Peace Prize, and she sent her speech ahead of her scheduled appearance in Frankfurt and was told that it would be preferable if she didn’t use the speech. She said she’d either use the speech or decline the prize.

Astrid delivered the speech in German.

Almost 40 years since delivering the speech, it still hits home, and home is where it all begins, according to Astrid.

Astrid Lindgren famously stated, give children love, more love and then some more love and common sense will come by itself, and this speech is a testament to her spirit.

The first few lines of the speech, like all speeches, start with gratitude, but Astrid addresses her audience as friends, and she further explains the feeling of gratitude and says that holding the prize in her hands makes her weak at the knees. She’s overcome by genuine appreciation. She speaks German, which is such a nice gesture.

Her speech is a fire talk against corporal punishment, against authoritarian parenting. Her speech is as current today as it was then.

After the niceties, she continues by reminding us of the fragility of peace. She further states that genuine peace is nowhere to be found, and for as long as humans have lived on Earth, we’ve been indulging in violence and war. Where ever peace does exist, it’s transient and under constant threat.

At the time, the world faced other wars, and Astrid mentioned that more people than ever before were working for peace and disarmament, but that the politicians gathering in hordes for summit meetings talking animatedly for disarmament were more likely to solve conflict with violence and all those politicians wanted other countries to disarm, not them. And one disarmament conference after another achieves nothing, and therefore Astrid asked if there is some inherent fault in the human condition as we continually use violence. She wondered if it is possible to become a new kind of human and where should we start?

Astrid believed we have to start with the children, how we parent children. Astrid said we have to love children more than we do. She believed good manners and common sense come from love. One can’t beat something into children, but one can love out much goodness.

Read the full speech, translated from German, here:

http://greens.org/~arvid/peacenow/

Books, Awards and Curiosities

There are quite a few literary awards in Astrid’s name, but the ALMA-Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award- is the world’s biggest prize for children and youth literature. The award is in her honour and sets out to both inspire authors and promotes children’s literature. The spirit of the work should characterise the humanism of Astrid’s writing.

In Sweden, you can visit Astrid’s cultural centre in Näs, which is her childhood home. Nearby, in Vimmerby, there’s also the adventure park, Astrid Lindgren’s World. In Stockholm, you can visit Junibacken, a children’s museum and culture and adventure centre. You can also visit her home on Dalagatan 46.

One of the curious things about Astrid Lindgren was that she wrote all her stories in shorthand before writing them properly on her typewriter. She woke up at 4 am and spent the morning listening to the radio and writing.

Her most famous work, apart from Pippi, includes Karlsson-on-the-Roof, The Children of Noisy Village, Emil of Lönneberga, Ronja the Robber’s Daughter, Mio, My Son and The Brothers Lionheart.

The collection of Astrid’s original manuscript in the Royal Library in Stockholm was placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2005.

When Astrid, at age 82, translated into 50 languages, was asked if she felt like a saint, she said;

“No, why should I? Everything is just vanity and chasing after wind. And we are all the same. And all of us have been small, sweet children who have grown up and shall die. What does it matter then if one is translated into 50 languages?”

Nobel Prize in Literature

Astrid Lindgren’s recipe for treating children as equals is as current today as it was then: give children love, more love and then some more love and good manners will come naturally.

Astrid should have got the Nobel Prize in literature for her services to children. She could still get it posthumously.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Tina Brescanu

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