A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pippi for Grown-Ups?

This will be my last post on Pippi. But I simply can’t leave Pippi behind without mentioning the connection between Pippi and another fictional Swedish heroine currently taking the world by storm: Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s blockbuster “Millenium” series for adults (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest).

Larsson was interviewed by Lasse Winkler on October 27, 2004, just three weeks before Larsson’s unfortunate death and a few months before publication of the first book. Earlier this year, Winkler discussed their meeting and quoted Larsson (in English) for The Guardian:

“‘I considered Pippi Longstocking,’ he said...‘What would she be like today? What would she be like as an adult? What would you call a person like that, a sociopath? Hyperactive? Wrong. She simply sees society in a different light. I’ll make her 25 years old and an outcast. She has no friends and is deficient in social skills. That was my original thought.’ That thought evolved into Larsson’s formidable heroine, Lisbeth Salander.”

According to Winkler, Larsson chose another Astrid Lindgren character, Kalle Blomkvist, boy detective, upon which to base his character Mikael Blomkvist, the investigative journalist who becomes involved with Salander.

If you’ve read the books or seen the Swedish movies (Hollywood hasn’t come out with their version yet), you may have noticed another neat little nod to Astrid Lindgren and Pippi. In The Girl Who Played with Fire, Salander’s apartment is named V. Kulla – short for Villa Villakulla.

I couldn’t help but smile when I saw it. Who says children’s books are "just kid stuff”? Maybe Larsson was a kid at heart, as I suspect most of us are.

The take-home lesson for me as a writer of children's books is this: never underestimate the impact of your stories. You never know how they may live on.  

Pippi's house, Villa Villakulla, at Junibacken
in Stockholm.

Monday, September 20, 2010

What Does Pippi Look Like?

We all have our own imagined visions of how fictional characters look, which is one reason I generally like to read a book before I see its film equivalent. I prefer to form my own picture before I see Hollywood's version.

Someone like Pippi inspires a strong impression in the reader, with or without pictures. I've been living with my ideas about Pippi for a long time -- since the original editions (in English) from the 1950s, illustrated by Ingrid Vang Nyman . I suspect that my own idea of what Pippi really looks like is more connected than I like to admit to the illustrations I pored over as a child. Compared to the overwhelming power of screen images to shape our perceptions, it's easy to forget that book illustrations can strongly influence our perceptions, too.

I'm reminded of this as I look at newer cover art for Pippi, updated for modern children. I find myself reacting strongly to the new images because -- guess what? -- they don't look like my Pippi!

Of course, I will cope. The important thing is that Pippi lives on. But I'm curious what other Pippi-lovers might think.

Below are links to four illustrators' images for the cover of Pippi Longstocking. Which do you prefer?

Statue of Astrid Lindgren, the author of Pippi Longstocking
and many other books for children, at Junibacken in Stockholm.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Amsterdam's Airport Library

I can't resist spreading the news about a very cool idea: airport libraries.

Last month the Dutch Public Libraries, in cooperation with the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, opened a library. Travellers can find books in 29 languages, listen to music, and watch or even download films for free.

The library was inaugurated by Her Royal Highness Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, which sounds charming to me. In the U.S. we must make do with politicians or celebrities for that sort of thing.

Though we may not have a tradition of royalty in the U.S., we can claim a strong heritage of public libraries. The Dutch press release states that this is the first airport library but that is apparently not the case. The Nashville Public Library ran an Airport Reading Room at their Municipal Airport from 1961-1969. Follow this link to see photographic proof!

I'm hoping airport managers are paying attention to this. An airport library sounds like a much-needed oasis of sanity in the increasingly barren landscape of air travel. Might I suggest: no blaring television screens; no unintelligible loudspeaker announcements; and free Internet connections.

The only drawback I can see is that some of us tend to lose track of time in libraries. In an airport, that could be a problem! Simple solution: make timers available.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


read the sign in the store window.

“No,” said Pippi… “I don’t suffer from them. I love them.”

Tommy, Annika, and Pippi at the entrance to Junibacken, a museum
in Stockholm dedicated to children's books.

I grew up reading all the Pippi Longstocking stories. Maybe you did, too. At a time when girls were required to wear skirts to school (which meant you had to also wear shorts underneath if you wanted to play on the monkey bars), Pippi was a marvel. She said and did the most surprising things! She was brave and strong, creative and self-sufficient, yet kind and touchingly vulnerable at times, too.

Pippi and friends also inspired my daughters during their elementary-school years. In one memorable episode, they decided to imitate Pippi’s famous pancake-making. In the book, Pippi ends up with eggs in her hair while mixing batter; she then extols the virtues of egg yolk for healthy hair. My daughters thought that sounded intriguing. Fortunately, they undertook this project outside in their playhouse. Unfortunately, they took it one step further, adding oatmeal to the eggs. A thick, sticky paste resulted, which they rubbed vigorously into each others’ scalps. It probably was healthy for their hair but as you can imagine, took more than one washing to get rid of.

In honor of Pippi and her irrepressible spirit, I hereby present a few
Fun Pippi Facts.

• Her full name (in English) is Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraim’s Daughter Longstocking. (In Swedish that’s Pippilotta Viktualia Rullgardina Krusmynta Efraimsdotter Långstrump.)

• Pippi’s mama is an angel in heaven. She died when Pippi was a baby but still watches over her through a peephole in the sky.

• Her papa is a sea captain who was blown overboard during a storm and disappeared. Pippi is convinced that he swam to safety, however, and will return.

• Pippi has a monkey named Mr. Nilsson and a large sack of gold, both taken from her papa’s ship when she left the sailing life to live on shore.

• Pippi is strong enough to lift her horse (and grown men).

• Her hair is carrot red; her long stockings are mismatched (one brown, one black); and her shoes are two times the length of her feet.

• She never cries.

• Her home is called Villa Villakulla.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My Random Act

I just performed my Random Act of Publicity for a favorite book (yet to be featured, so I'm not saying which) by writing a review on Now that I've done it, I can't believe that I haven't before. Really, quite painless! And perhaps it will nudge a deserving book into the hands of new readers.

If you love to read (and I doubt you'd be reading this if you don't), I recommend taking a few moments out of your week to promote a good book. Spread the word! Maybe "your" book will go viral, in a good way. Or at least sell enough copies to stay in print for another year.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


These are the first three words that come to my mind when I think of Tales of the Elves: Icelandic Folktales for Children (adapted by Anna Kristín Ásbjörnsdóttir from the Icelandic Folktales of Jón Árnason, and illustrated by Florence Helga Thibault).

My adjectives apply to both the stories and the illustrations. Perhaps you’ve heard about the origins of the elves? (Or perhaps not, if you weren’t raised in Iceland or other parts of Scandinavia.) The elves were originally children of Adam and Eve. But when God came to visit, Eve hid away some of her children -- the ones that hadn’t been washed. This turned out to be silly, of course, because God knew what Eve had done. God pronounced that the hidden children would remain so, becoming invisible to humans while living in the mountains, hills, and rocks all around them.

Thus began the kinship between humans and elves. It is the founding story for those that follow: “Midwife to the Elves,” “Elf Wind,” “Payment for Milk,” “The Elves of Drangey Island,” “Queen Bóthildur,” and “Fostered by the Elves.” All are marvelous tales about the magical interface between humans and the “other.” It turns out that those others aren’t so different from us. They respond to kindness, respect, and courage from humans with good will in return.

 I love the art in this book as much as the stories. At first glance the pictures may appear simple – but there’s magic in the details. Take this one from “Midwife to the Elves”:

Everything alive (and mysterious) is connected by patterns and designs that resonate: stars, lights, the moon, flowers, leaves, trees – and the elf girl. The human girl, in contrast, is much plainer. As a reward for helping with the birth this ordinary human girl becomes extraordinary, however. She is gifted with the ability to see elves, which she does quite often, until she loses the gift by…ah, but I can’t give away the ending!

I feel quite lucky to have come across this book in my local public library. Though it’s translated into English, I haven’t been able to find a place to buy a copy. The book I hold in my hands was purchased and donated to the library by a neighbor, who was on a cruise that visited Iceland. The publisher is Bjartur and pub date 2008. If anyone has a lead on obtaining copies in the U.S., please let me know. I love this book!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Day Job

Last week I wrote about “wasting” my talents as a librarian. I think the sentiment behind my friend’s comment was this: the time I spend working a job takes me away from writing. And that is a dilemma that all but the financially independent must grapple with, as I have throughout my writing life.

Anyone who has been writing for any length of time has heard – and experienced -- the harsh economic realities of the business. The vast majority of writers do not support themselves by writing. At the SCBWI conference I attended a few weeks ago I heard it again: one agent estimated that 85 to 90 percent of his clients hold outside jobs. I’m pretty sure that I’ve heard the phrase “keep your day job” uttered by some guest expert at every writing conference I’ve ever attended.

Of course, some writers do manage to make their living by their words alone. But every writer’s situation is unique. Some have private sources of income to rely on, spouses with jobs and benefits, or other financial back-up systems in place. Others don’t. The personal risk factor figures in, too. Some writers can tolerate financial instability, while others find it overwhelmingly stressful.

In the U.S., having health insurance is huge. Many people work primarily for those precious medical benefits. I wonder – though I’m not sure how one would figure this out – if writers in countries with universal health coverage have an easier go of it? Are there other challenges, such as smaller markets and higher costs, to contend with?

All of which gets me to wondering: how do you balance the need to write with the need to make a living? Which challenges do you find most difficult? Does your country or region do anything to support and encourage writers?