L. was born the daughter of a farmer in southeastern Sweden, the second of four children in a close and loving family. She developed an early love for nature as well as for books. A voracious reader, she remembers fondly the popular girls' books of the day: Pollyanna, The Little Princess, and, her favorite, Anne of Green Gables. After graduating from grade school, L. went to Stockholm where she became a secretary, married, and had two children. She had long told her children stories, but never thought to write them down until an injury confined her to bed in 1944. She wrote the manuscript of Pippi Longstocking as a birthday gift for her daughter. Her first attempt at publication failed, but her second manuscript, for a story entitled Britt-Mari Opens Her Heart, won second place in a publisher's competition in the autumn of 1944. And in 1945, the manuscript of Pippi Longstocking won first place in a similar contest. L. achieved almost instant success as an author and continues to write.
Pippi Longstocking, the adventures of a fiercely independent red-headed girl, shocked many adult readers when it appeared, because of the heroine's unrefined manners, her rejection of adult authority, and her irrepressible nature. Of course, she is every child's dream, growing up in a home of her own, with ample wealth, and without adult supervision or rules. She immediately became a childhood favorite and remains one. L's exaggerated HUMOR is akin to American tall tales, and it is possible to find beneath the surface of the delightful farce a gentle jab at society's rigid conformity. Through Pippi Longstocking and its two sequels, Pippi Goes on Board (1946) and Pippi in the South Seas (1948), L. gained international fame and won literary AWARDS around the world. But she also published dozens of other books, primarily for children. As a children's writer, L. exhibited an extremely broad range, from PICTURE BOOKS for the very young—her Bill Bergson series and The Tomten, for example—to books for adolescents such as the Kati books.
The struggle between good and evil is a recurring theme in much of L.'s work. Niels, the Midget (1949), a collection of original FAIRY TALES, and Mio, My Son (1954), a lyrical FANTASY, are two of L.'s most celebrated books, both presenting the conflict between good and evil in terms accessible to children.
The Brothers Lionheart (1973), on the other hand, is a serious tale of death and reincarnation that raised controversy at the time it was published. The book deals with the deaths of two brothers, eschews traditional religious teachings, and shows the brothers continuing to have heroic adventures in Nangilyala, an imaginary land. L. claims she wrote the book deliberately to offer comfort to young children, particularly to those who have not been reared with the conventional Christian belief in the afterlife.
Ronia, the Robber's Daughter (1983), also for older readers, is a bildungsroman of fairy-tale magic and adventure set in the Middle Ages. The story echoes Romeo and Juliet but with a happier ending, since two young lovers from opposing bands of robbers bring about a reconciliation among the factions. The book describes Ronia's growth and development, both physically and emotionally, and, in some ways, is a complement to the Pippi tales. In Ronia readers see the free-spirited protagonist grow into responsibility. L.'s books have been translated into more than fifty languages, and the character of Pippi Longstocking has become a cultural icon, at least in the English-speaking world, giving rise to films, dolls, and other memorabilia.
L. has received many honors. The Astrid L. Prize, named in her honor, is awarded annually in Sweden to honor an outstanding writer of children's books. Typically, L. writes her books out in shorthand while lying in bed; she frequently uses her childhood home and environs as the setting for her fiction. Indeed, L.'s own childhood was the source of her inspiration for all her children's books. She once wrote “there is no child that can inspire me but the child that I myself once was.”
Swedish State Award. 1957. Hans Christian ANDERSEN Award. 1958. State Artist Award (Sweden). 1965. Literis et Artibus Medal from the King of Sweden. 1975. German Peace Prize. 1978. Mildred L. Batchelder Award for Ronia, the Robber's Daughter (1984)
FURTHER WORKS: Kati in America, 1950 ( English 1964); Bill Bergson Lives Dangerously, 1951 ( English 1954); Erik and Karisson-on-the-Roof, 1955 ( English 1958); The Children of Noisy Village, 1961 ( English 1962); Emil in the Soup Tureen, 1963 ( English 1970); Of Course Polly Can Do Almost Everything, 1977 (English 1978)
Bibliography Cott, Jonathan, Pipers at the Gates of Dawn: The Wisdom of Children's Literature, 1983 Children's Literature Review, vol. 39 Metcalf, Eva-Maria. Astrid L. , 1995 Something about the Author, vol. 34, 1984
David L. Russell