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The wild world of Pippi Longstocking

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

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

But Pippi isn't the only book character Mrs. Lindgren created. In Russia, Karlsson-on-the-Roof is very popular. He's a man who secretly lives on the roof of a family's home – and he can fly. In Sweden, Emil, a young prankster, is a favorite.

Mrs. Lindgren's books have sold over 145 million copies worldwide and have been translated into more than 80 languages. Pippi stories alone have been printed in more than 50 languages! Mrs. Lindgren's tales have been made into dozens of movies and TV shows. She even read some of them aloud on Swedish radio.

Celebrating Astrid Lindgren

Mrs. Lindgren won many awards during her lifetime. In 1958, she received the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, one of the highest distinctions for a children's book writer. In 1967, the Rabén & Sjögren publishing company created the Astrid Lindgren Prize in her honor. It's awarded to a children's author every year on her birthday.

After Mrs. Lindgren passed away in 2002, the Swedish government founded the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA). The ALMA is given not only to authors, but to illustrators, narrators, and promoters of reading.

In 2006, the ALMA winner was an American, Katherine Paterson. She is the author of "Bridge to Terabithia" and "The Great Gilly Hopkins," among others. In a lecture she gave after accepting the prize, she said she was amused to find that she had something in common with Mrs. Lind­gren. Both of them had been uncertain about becoming writers because they didn't want to add bad books to the world. That worry turned out to unfounded in both cases!

What really impresses Ms. Paterson about the people of Sweden is that they have made a national hero of Mrs. Lindgren – someone who is not a movie star, a sports figure, a rock musician, or a victor in battle, but who became famous simply for writing books that kids love to read.

When it came time for the 2007 ALMA winner to be announced, Ms. Paterson waited by her computer, hoping the award would go to Banco del Libro. Her wish came true. Banco del Libro won. It's a Venezuelan organization that brings books and reading to children and teens.

Banco del Libro's work is truly in the spirit of Astrid Lindgren. She believed that "all the great things that have happened in the world first took place in a person's imagination, and it will largely depend on the imagination of those who are just learning to read right now what tomorrow's world will be like."

The 2008 ALMA winner is Australian author Sonya Hartnett. She had her first book published when she was 15, and since then, she’s written 18 novels for kids, young people, and adults. [Editor's note: The original version misidentified when her first book was written.]

Mrs. Lindgren made a big difference in Sweden and the world because she got children excited about reading by writing books they adored. One day a stranger pressed a note into her hand that read, "Thanks for brightening up a gloomy childhood."

She said later, "That's enough for me. If I've been able to brighten a single gloomy childhood, then I'm satisfied."

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