U celebrates Pippi Longstocking’s creator

Ingrid Lindgren, who wrote the celebrated children’s story, would be 100 this year.

Lindsay Guentzel

Pippi Longstocking, the mischievous redhead who brightened children’s days with her wild adventures and antics, came to life Wednesday on what would have been the 100th birthday of her creator, Astrid Lindgren.

The University’s libraries presented the conference, “A Woman for All Seasons: Astrid Lindgren at 100,” which included artistic interpretations from the Children’s Theatre Company and academic presentations on her work from scholars around the world.

University library curator Karen Nelson Hoyle said it was important to celebrate Lindgren’s work and life because she is important to children’s literature.

“She is the best-known Swedish author of all time,” Hoyle said.

She also said Lindgren is important to the University because there is a lot of Scandinavian history and culture in Minnesota.

Lindgren’s books are part of the University’s Kerlan Collection, one of the world’s largest groupings of children’s literature. The 100,000-book collection was donated by University alumnus Dr. Irvin Kerlan, who collected them as a hobby.

Lindgren based the idea for Pippi Longstocking and her adventures on her own childhood in southern Sweden. She gave her first book to her daughter for her 10th birthday.

“Pippi Longstocking” was first published in 1945 by the Swedish publishing house Rabén & Sjögren. Since then, it has been published in more than 100 countries and 70 languages.

Hoyle said Lindgren’s characters show children that their voices are important.

“It’s planting seeds for child rights and child advocacy,” she said. “It’s a voice saying children should be heard.”

Ulf Boëthius, a professor at Stockholm University in Sweden who spoke at the conference, said Lindgren always had a child’s best interest in mind when she created her stories.

“This is a recurring theme in her work, this commitment to children,” he said. “She was always on the side of the child.”

The life of Lindgren

Born Nov. 14, 1907, Lindgren spent her childhood on a farm outside of Vimmerby, Sweden. After attending public school, she started her career as a writer at a newspaper, where she had a son with the paper’s editor-in-chief when she was 18. Because she was so young, she was forced to send her son to a foster home for three years, Boëthius said.

He said losing her son was a life-changing experience that influenced Lindgren’s work – both her writing and her political involvement.

“She visited one of these children’s homes and saw how ugly it was,” he said.

In 1926, Lindgren moved to Stockholm where she became a typist and a transcriber. In 1931, she married Steve Lindgren, her boss, and had her daughter, Karin, in 1934.

Lindgren died on Jan. 28, 2002 at the age of 94. After her death, the Swedish government started the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, which allocates around $700,000 to authors, illustrators and narrators whose work represents Lindgren’s spirit. The award is the world’s largest monetary award for children’s and youth literature.

Petra Andersson, a Swedish exchange student attending the University of Minnesota-Duluth, said she was happy she could attend the 100th birthday celebration because Lindgren is an important person in her country.

“She’s a big deal in Sweden,” she said. “It makes me miss home.”

With more than 40 published children’s books, Lindgren’s work expanded beyond her writing and into her everyday life. An advocate for animal rights, Sweden passed the Lindgren’s Law to set guidelines for the treatment of animals, Boëthius said.

Author and translator Tiina Nunnally signed copies of the newly translated version of “Pippi Longstocking” at the end of the conference.

Martha Davis Beck, the president of Kerlan Friends, said the translation was done for today’s generation of children – a big influence in helping children maintain a connection with the older story.

In an essay about Lindgren, author Katherine Paterson, the 2006 memorial award recipient, also said Lindgren was more than just a children’s writer.

“She was an eloquent spokesperson for justice and peace,” Paterson said. “It was her writing for children that made the Swedish people listen to her powerful voice.”