Astrid Lindgren and her Swedish Children's Books

Photograph of Astrid Lindgren, author of Swedish children's books, aged about 17

Astrid Lindgren was a Swedish children’s author who is best known for her books about Pippi Longstocking, The Children of Noisy Village and Karlson on the Roof. Astrid Lindgren's popular picture books include Goran's Great Escape, A Calf for Christmas and In the Land of Twilight. Astrid Lindgren is Sweden's most famous author of children's literature; her books have sold around 145 million copies worldwide and have been translated into over 90 languages.

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Illustration by Marit Törnqvist from Astrid Lindgren, Goran's Great Escape

Astrid Lindgren 1907-2002: Biography

Astrid Lindgren's Childhood

Astrid Lindgren was born Astrid Anna Emilia Ericsson on the 14 November 1907 to Samuel August Ericsson (1875-1969) and Hanna Jonsson (1879-1961). Her parents married in 1905.

Photograph of Astrid Lindgren as a child, centre, with parents and siblings

Astrid Lindgren grew up on Näs farm near Vimmerby, in the county of Småland in southern Sweden. She had a happy childhood on the farm and her parents created a loving and secure home for their children. Astrid Lindgren had two sisters, Stina and Ingegerd, and one brother, Gunnar, who became a member of the Swedish parliament. Astrid Lindgren and her siblings helped the maids and farmhands with the everyday work on the farm. It was in the kitchen of one of the farmhands that Astrid Lindgren heard fairytales and stories which ignited her love of books.

At school, Astrid Lindgren was good at writing and at the age of thirteen she got a story published in the Vimmerby Times (Vimmerby Tindingen). When Astrid Lindgren finished school, the Editor-in-Chief of the Vimmerby Times employed her on a voluntary basis. She began by writing reviews, adverts and proof reading and later wrote articles for the paper.

Astrid Lindgren's Early Career and son Lars Lindgren

In 1926, at the age of eighteen, Astrid Lindgren left the newspaper after she became pregnant by a man 30 years her senior. Instead of accepting his marriage proposal, Astrid Lindgren went to Copenhagen to have her child. She chose the hospital as it was the only one in Scandinavia that did not ask for the father’s name. Her son Lars lived in a foster home for three years whilst Astrid Lindgren made a living in Stockholm, but she would make the long journey to Copenhagen to visit him whenever she could. After three years Lars went home to Vimmerby to live with his grandparents until Astrid Lindgren could afford to raise him in Stockholm.

Photograph of Astrid Lindgren, author of Swedish children's books, with daughter Karin

Astrid Lindgren's Marriage and daughter Karin Lindgren

In Stockholm, Astrid Lindgren worked as a secretary at the Royal Swedish Automobile Club, where she met her husband, the office manager Sture Lindgren, in 1928. Astrid and Sture Lindgren married in 1931 and in 1934 their daughter Karin Lindgren was born. Astrid Lindgren was kept busy at home with her two children but she still found the time to write short stories for the magazine Landsbygdens Jul (A Country Christmas), bringing in some extra money. In 1941 the family moved to a new apartment in Dalagatan in Stockholm, where Astrid Lindgren lived until her death in 2002. In 1952 Sture Lindgren died of an internal haemorrhage, aged 53. Astrid Lindgren never remarried.

Astrid Lindgren and Pippi Longstocking

Photograph of Astrid Lindgren, author of Swedish children's books, with Pippi Longstocking actor Inger Nilsson

Astrid Lindgren was inspired to write her Pippi Longstocking books when her daughter Karin was lying sick in bed. She wanted to hear a story and asked her mother to tell her about Pippi Longstocking. Astrid Lindgren used the name invented by her daughter to make up stories to entertain her.

For Karin's tenth birthday, Astrid Lindgren wrote down the stories she had told Karin about Pippi Longstocking. She also sent a copy of the stories to the publisher Albert Bonniers Förlag. The manuscript was rejected but Astrid Lindgren discovered her love of writing books and wrote Britt-Mari Lättar Sitt Hjärta (Confidences of Britt-Mari). This book came second in publisher Rabén & Sjögren's writing competition for girls' fiction. Rabén & Sjögren’s published Britt-Mari Lättar Sitt Hjärta in 1944 and Pippi Longstocking in 1945.

The publication of Pippi Longstocking changed Astrid Lindgren’s life. The book became a great success and made her a world-famous author. However it also caused a general outcry in Sweden at the time. The free-spirited and unruly Pippi Longstocking worried teachers and parents, and some critics warned of the collapse of public morals.

Raben & Sjögren

Photograph of Astrid Lindgren, author of Swedish children's books, at her typewriter

In 1946 Astrid Lindgren began working for the publisher Raben & Sjögren as a children's book editor. She later became responsible for the distribution of children’s books and stayed with the company until her retirement in 1970.

In order to fit writing into her busy schedule, Astrid Lindgren used shorthand to write her stories in bed in the mornings before going to work in the afternoon. She would later type out her manuscripts on a typewriter at home.

Until this time children's writing had been a low-status profession, but the success of Pippi Longstocking revived the genre in Sweden, making it new and exciting. Working as an editor, Astrid Lindgren also encouraged many new young writers of children’s books including Viola Wahlstedt, Anna-Lisa Lundkvist, Edith Unnerstad, Barbro Lindgren and Hans Peterson.

Astrid Lindgren as a Public Figure

Photograph of Astrid Lindgren, author of Swedish children's books, after taxation protest

Astrid Lindgren's success as an author brought her into the public eye and she became involved in national debates on issues including taxation policies, nuclear power and the treatment of children, refugees and animals.

During her life, Astrid Lindgren received numerous awards and honours, including the Hans Christian Andersen medal (1958), the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award (1973) and UNESCO Book Award (1993).

In 1967, to mark her 60th birthday, the Astrid Lindgren Prize was instituted by Rabén & Sjögren. The prize is awarded every year for meritorious authorship in Swedish children’s and young adult literature.

Astrid Lindgren continued to be active in public life until the age of ninety-one when she had a stroke and stopped appearing in public. On 28 January 2002 Astrid Lindgren passed away at her home in Dalagatan. The funeral was held on 8 March 2002 (International Women's Day) in Stockholm's old town and the streets of the city were filled with mourners.

Illustration by Harald Wiberg from Astrid Lindgren, The Tomten and the Fox

After her death in 2002, the Swedish government founded the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the world's largest children’s and youth literature prize. The prize is awarded each year to one or more recipients. Recent winners include Philip Pullman (2005), Sonya Hartnett (2008), Kitty Crowther (2010) and Shaun Tan (2011).

In April 2011 the Bank of Sweden announced that one of the new bank notes planned for 2014-15 will bear a portrait of Astrid Lindgren.

Astrid Lindgren's Books

Astrid Lindgren's Swedish Stories

Astrid Lindgren based many of her stories on the happy memories from her childhood growing up on Näs. This can especially be seen in The Children of Noisy Village/The Six Bullerby Children, the stories of a group of children living on neighbouring farms and playing together in the surrounding fields and forest. Farm life is also prominent in many of her picture books, including Goran's Great Escape and A Calf for Christmas, both depicting idyllic turn-of-the-century rural life.

Illustration by Marit Törnqvist from Astrid Lindgren, A Calf for Christmas

Astrid Lindgren wrote over 40 children's books. Below is a list of her most popular books.

Astrid Lindgren's best known children's books:

(In chronological order)

  • The Pippi Longstocking series (Pippi Longstrump) (1945-1971)
  • The Children of Noisy Village series (also know as the Bullerby Children) (Bullerbyn) (1946-1966)
  • The Bill Bergson series (Mästerdetektiven Blomkvist) (1946-1953)
  • Mio, my Mio (also known as Mio, my Son) (Mio, min Mio) (1954)
  • The Karlson-on-the-Roof series (Karlsson på Taket) (1955-1972)
  • The Mardie series (also known as Mischievous Meg) (Madicken) (1960-1993)
  • Emil series (Emil i Lönneberga) (1963-1997)
  • Sea Crow Island (Vi på Saltkråkan) (1964)
  • The Brothers Lionheart (Bröderna Lejonhjärta) (1973)
  • Ronia the Robber’s Daughter (Ronja Rövardotter) (1981)

A selection of Astrid Lindgren's picture books:

(In chronological order)

Astrid Lindgren, The Tomten cover image

The Tomten

(Tomten) (1960)

At night, when all is quiet around the farm, that's when the Tomten wakes up. He is the one who looks after everything while the farmer and his family are sleeping.

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Astrid Lindgren, The Tomten and the Fox cover image

The Tomten and the Fox

(Räven och Tomten) (1965)

In the moonlight, the fox sneaks towards the farm, hoping to steal a chicken or two. But he's forgotten about the old Tomten who guards the farm.

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Astrid Lindgren, A Calf for Christmas cover image

A Calf for Christmas

(När Bäckhultarn for till Stan) (1989)

Johan's family’s only cow has died just before Christmas, and they have no money to buy another.

Then rich farmer Peter Jonsson comes to town for the Christmas market. He buys a calf then, after spending some time in the local inn, loses it on the sleigh ride home! When Johan heads out to clear snow, what does he find ...? Maybe he'll have a happy Christmas after all.

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Astrid Lindgren, Goran's Great Escape cover image

Goran's Great Escape

(När Adam Engelbrekt Blev Tvärarg) (1991)

It's a beautiful, sunny Easter Sunday in Sweden. The farmer and his family are having breakfast before going to church and the farmworkers are going about their daily chores. But Goran the bull is angry. He breaks loose from his stall, and charges down the barn and out into the yard.

People gather from miles around to see the raging bull. But who will dare to cross Goran's path? Will he stay angry forever? Karl, a seven-year-old farm boy, has a plan. But can a very small boy tame a very big bull?

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Astrid Lindgren, In the Land of Twilight cover image

In the Land of Twilight

(I Skymningslandet) (1994)

Goran has a bad leg and he gets bored spending so much time in bed. But when darkness starts to fall, Mr Lilyvale knocks on the window and takes him to the Land of Twilight. Goran drives a bus, eats candy that grows on trees, meets a talking moose, and even visits the King and Queen. Anything is possible in the Land of Twilight.

The story of Mr Lilyvale was first published in the story collection Nils Karlsson Pyssling in 1949. In 1994 it was illustrated by Marit Törnqvist and published as a picture book.

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Illustration by Marit Törnqvist from Astrid Lindgren, In the Land of Twilight

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