Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Aug 19, 2015
And now my kids know her, too.
If you've read the book or seen one of the movie adaptations, then you might also remember a few other details, such as these: Pippi lives in a home called Villa Villekulla (one of those names that rolls gloriously off the tongue--try it). She has no mother or father (her mother died and her father was lost at sea). This lack of parental supervision suits Pippi just fine, and she takes full advantage of it: staying up into the wee morning hours learning how to dance the schottische or drawing on the walls or rolling out dozens of cookies on the kitchen floor. Her neighbors, Tommy and Annika, are rather envious and love coming over to play because there's always something fun or wild or strange going on. She's also unbelievably strong, which makes for some pretty funny moments. (It was one of those facts I kept forgetting about until, all of sudden, she was doing something spectacular, like throwing the local bullies up into a tree.) But even though Pippi doesn't have parents, she doesn't live alone: She has a pet monkey named Mr. Nilsson and a horse who resides on the porch. All in all, it's a good life.
I knew we'd found a winner as early as the very first chapter. Tommy and Annika are visiting Villa Villekulla for the very first time, and they ask her, "Don't you have any father or mother?" And Pippi happily says, "No, not the least little tiny bit of a one." My kids busted up laughing. Then Annika asks, "But who tells you when to go to bed at night and things like that?" Pippi answers, "I tell myself. First I tell myself in a nice friendly way; and then, if I don't mind, I tell myself again more sharply; and if I still don't mind, then I'm in for a spanking--see?" At that point, I had to stop reading because Aaron, Max, and Bradley were laughing so hard they couldn't hear what I was reading. (And I had to go back and read that part over again because they'd enjoyed it so much, they wanted to hear it a second time.)
They enjoyed the rest of the book just as much, although Aaron admitted on the second chapter that he didn't think it was quite as funny as the first. The first chapter definitely had the element of surprise going for it. Since my kids had never heard of Pippi before, they were just as startled and delighted by her as Tommy and Annika.
Now a word of warning. Pippi is impudent. She is sassy. She can be a little bit rude. (When she goes to school (for all of one day), the teacher asks her what seven and five are, and Pippi replies, "Well, if you don't know that yourself, you needn't think I'm going to tell you." I know. I cringed too.) But the thing is, her impudence and sassiness and rudeness are very innocent. She's not saying those things because she's trying to get the upper hand on adults or because she's trying to assert her independence. She says them because she has absolutely no filter and never considers the appropriateness of what she's saying before she's already said it.
But she recognizes that she often doesn't know the proper way to behave, and it causes her the occasional moment of anxiety. When Tommy and Annika invite her to their house for a coffee party, Pippi worries, "Oh, what will happen? Oh, I'm so nervous. What if I can't behave myself?" Annika says, "Of course you can." And Pippi goes on to say, "Don't you be too certain about that. You can be sure I'll try, but I have noticed several times that people don't think I know how to behave even when I'm trying as hard as ever I can." (Spoiler: her conversation at the coffee party is a total disaster.) So you can't help but love her for trying.
Pippi's also very literal. She reminded me of a younger Amelia Bedelia--a more scatter-brained, sporadic Amelia Bedelia. In fact, it's a little hard to keep up with her. She changes her mind (and her stories) so quickly. She can go from stating something as fact to admitting it's fiction faster than you can blink.
I think the thing that I loved the most about Pippi though was her optimistic flexibility with life. Her plans are always spur of the moment and she never thinks about the consequences. I don't necessarily agree with that way of living (and for me, personally, I'd never be able to handle it), but I love that she always makes the best of her decisions. When she paints a large picture on the wallpaper in the parlor, she doesn't fret about ruining the wall; and she doesn't regret the picture. Instead, she thinks it's a beautiful painting and greatly improves the room. But you know that in a few days, she'll probably be tired of it. However, she won't wish for it to be back the way it was. She'll just move onto her next great idea and make more "improvements." And it's that kind of attitude, moving forward with optimism and flexibility, that I admire.
It felt a lot like Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle in that each chapter was its own story. There's wasn't any overarching drama, and there was nothing about the last chapter that actually made it feel like the end. It just ended. That must have been a popular literary device in the 1950's, but I can't say that it's my favorite.
If you're looking for your next great readaloud, I'd recommend this one, especially if you've enjoyed some of the other similar books I mentioned in this review. And if you've already read Pippi, I'd love to know what you thought about her. Did you find her obnoxious or endearing?