I grew up in the UK watching BBC children’s programmes, but at least two or three times a year I would return to Gothenburg, Sweden to visit family. My aunt had friends with kids and she would borrow videos and toys for me and my sister to play with. My Swedish at that point was a mere few words, but I remember vividly watching all the Pippi Longstocking videos. I also recall not caring that I didn’t really understand everything that was being said. All I really remember is thinking this red haired girl is great and I could not think of any other character like her.
British children’s programmes at the time did not have many programmes about girls and definitely not strong rebellious girls. This did not really happen until the TV series Marmalade Atkins. Whereas Pippi, well she had been around since the 1940’s and she rocked.
If you are not familiar with Pippi Longtstocking, here is a short description. Her father is a pirate and her mother lives in Heaven. While her father is at sea, Pippi lives in a small Swedish village, in a fantastic wooden house called ‘Villa Villekulla’ with her monkey called Mr Nilsson and her horse. Pippi has superhuman strength and can lift her horse up over her head. She is fun, adventurous, loyal, confident and playful. Many articles compare her mischief to that of Peter Pan.
Pippi does not do what adults or society expects, she does not go to school and she lives alone. Friendship is important to her and she makes friends with the kids next door, Tommy and Anika. Their adventures are innocent, yet at the same time she stands up to adults. She is a liberator, who didn’t care how she looked and made you questions all the rules.
Pippi really is unique and had a huge influence on my childhood. I would even attribute this early influence on how I viewed myself as a female in society. She certainly made me think that I could be strong too. I wanted not to be afraid, to stand up for what I thought was right and be counted. I think all little girls should be introduced to Pippi Longstocking, at least once.
There are many books that have a girl protagonist, but not many are as self-assured or defiant. It may not be that surprising that Pippi Longstocking has even been banned in some countries for being too controversial. Probably sprung from a fear that girls may start to think for themselves and question authority.
Recently, a spate of female characters have started coming forward. Katniss from The Hunger Games shares many traits with Pippi Longstocking. Neither character rely on looks or popularity for approval. This is a subject I bring up with the girls and the boys at school. And boys, you ask? Increasingly, boys are feeling this pressure of how they look and worry about fitting in too. I ask how they find the strength to be who they are or question the world around them. Who are their role models? I always tell them mine, Pippi Longstocking.
Next time I raise this issue, I will tell them about when Pippi passed a shop with a sign in the window stating, ‘Do you Suffer From Freckles?’ She decided to go in and give them an answer.
“No, I don’t suffer from freckles”, she declares.
“But my dear child”, says the assistant, “your whole face is covered in them.
”I know”, says Pippi, “but I don’t suffer from them. I like them. Good morning!”
When people ask me which writers have influenced me, I always mention Astrid Lindgren. Her characters are so cheeky, so full of real life and hugely endearing. All the things I hope to inject into my characters. I have to admit, I am an Astrid Lindgren wannabe.
A.J. York is a middle grade and children's writer. Author of Delilah Dusticle, Eliza Bluebell and A Fairy Extraordinary Christmas Story. A.J York has a Swedish and British background and currently lives in Gothenburg, Sweden.