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The wild world of Pippi Longstocking

Kids love the spunky book character, who's from Sweden.

By Tabatha Yeatts / March 18, 2008

Pippi Galore: Pippi Longstocking books have been translated into more than 50 languages. A 1970s cover shows Villa Villekula, Old Man, and Mr. Nilsson, too.

Courtesy of Penguin Young Readers

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Pippi Longstocking, with her wild hair and outrageous antics, has been delighting kids across the globe for more than 60 years. Have you read about her adventures? Did you ever wonder how this wacky character reached superstardom? Well, it all started with one real-life girl.

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One day when she wasn't feeling well, Karin Lindgren asked her mother, Astrid Lindgren, to tell her a story. When Mom wanted to know what the tale should be about, Karin made up a name. "Pippi Longstocking!" she said.

Mrs. Lindgren came up with a character she thought fitted the funny name – an adventurous 9-year-old with braided red hair that stuck straight out on either side of her head. This child lived in a house called Villa Villekula with her monkey, Mr. Nilsson, and her horse, Old Man, but no grown-ups. Pippi lived happily on her own, taking care of bullies, pompous adults, and robbers with her superhuman strength, humor, and good nature.

Pippi on paper

Pippi was a hit in the Lindgren household, but although Mrs. Lindgren told the stories regularly at bedtime, she didn't even bother writing them down. It wasn't until a few years later that she finally put them on paper. She had wanted the manuscript to be a gift for Karin's 10th birthday, but she also sent it to a large publishing company. It was rejected.

That didn't stop Mrs. Lindgren, though. She revised what she had written and submitted it to a children's-book competition at a smaller publisher called Rabén & Sjögren. She won!

"Pippi Longstocking" was published in 1945 and became a hit with Swedish children, although some adults worried that Pippi would be a bad role model.

"No normal child would ever eat an entire cake at a coffee party!" complained a grown-up reader to Mrs. Lindgren, who agreed that was true. "No normal child would lift a horse with one arm either: but if you can do one, you can probably do the other as well," she wrote later.

The original Pippi stories appeared as a set of three chapter books. "Pippi Goes on Board" came out in 1946 and "Pippi in the South Seas" followed in 1948.

The same year that Rabén & Sjögren published the second Pippi book, Mrs. Lindgren went to work for them as an editor who helped to discover other up-and-coming children's writers.

Pippi around the world

Soon, "Pippi" spread to Norway, Finland, and Denmark. Then she arrived in Germany. The first five German publishers who were offered "Pippi Longstocking" turned it down, but the sixth wanted to take it. And what a smart decision – Germany loved Pippi!

Germans became such fans of Mrs. Lindgren's books that many schools have been named for her. And last November, Germany released an Astrid Lindgren stamp in honor of what would have been her 100th birthday. The Unity Frankfurt soccer fans' cheering song is sung to the tune of the theme for the Swedish "Pippi Longstocking" TV series.

In the United States, the first book about Pippi was printed in 1950. In time, American children, too, fell in love with this fun, unforgettable girl. She continues to be adored by children in every generation.

A look at Astrid Lindgren's world

Astrid Lindgren was born in Vimmerby, Sweden, on Nov. 14, 1907. Her parents, Samuel and Hanna Ericsson, ran a farm. Astrid, and her brother and two sisters had chores, but they played a lot, too.

Mrs. Lindgren remembered those times when she was writing her books. When she was asked later what child inspired her books, she answered that it was the child she once was.

Her childhood also encouraged her to champion farm-animal rights. At age 78, she started a campaign on behalf of farm animals that resulted in "Lindgren's Law," which had guidelines for their treatment.

More fun facts

• Pippi's full name is Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraim's Daughter Longstocking.

• When she was a child, Astrid Lindgren loved the book "Anne of Green Gables" by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

• Mrs. Lindgren's first job was as a proofreader and reporter for her local newspaper.

• When Mrs. Lindgren worked for the publisher Rabén & Sjögren, she translated a couple of H.A. and Margret Rey's "Curious George" books into Swedish.

• In Sweden, there is a theme park called "Astrid Lindgren's World."www.astridlindgrensworld.com

• SOS Children's Villages, which provide homes for orphaned and abandoned children, named Astrid Lindgren the 2007 "Childhood Visionary."

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