Why I Am Now Scared to Read Astrid Lindgren

19302One of the first “real” books I read after I learned how to read was Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking. After that, I read every other children’s book that she had written. My parents gave me beautiful hardcover editions of the books, and when I wasn’t reading, I was happily daydreaming. I even took up riding lessons, just in case I would ever have a horse, like Pippi.

I’ve been patiently waiting for my kids to be old enough for Lindgren’s books. Now they are old enough for chapter books, so during their winter break, I got Pippi Longstocking for them. I was so excited when we got the book from the library; I knew we were in for a treat. Then we started reading and… it was not magical. Sure, the reading went well. The kids’ attention was kept enough for them to sit and listen to an entire chapter. We chuckled every now and then, we cheered when Pippi taught the bully a lesson, and then we cheered again when she rescued two little boy from a burning building. But unfortunately, the book has left no big impression on the kids.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out why the spark was missing. Then I read The Paperback Princess’ review of Anne of Green Gables, and something clicked. As Eva says in her review, she was able to read Anne with an indulgent smile while still being able to appreciate the setting and story, which is exactly how I felt when I reread Anne a few years ago. But when I read about Pippi, it was different. I couldn’t feel indulgent, and there was nothing to spark my kids’ imagination. It was similar to watching an episode of “Leave It to Beaver”: family-friendly fun, but not exactly inspiring. I don’t think my kids can relate to a life where the mothers have tea in the afternoon, the kids get changed for dinner, and the teacher decides that a child is too difficult to go to school. (Well, I’m glad my kids can’t relate to that last point.) There is nothing overtly outdated in this book, but it doesn’t fit well into how my family’s life is set up. And there is no explanation for why the world in the book is different. My kids had no problem accepting the big, talking insects in James and the Giant Peach because they were explained by the magic beans. But they found it odd that a child could simply defy the police and then be left alone by all the other adults in the story. Is it because my kids are different than me or because the world is different today than it was 30 years ago? I don’t know.

I am sad that some of the spark has rubbed off Pippi Longstocking. I don’t know whether I will read the next book about her. She’s a great heroine, independent and strong—definitely strong—with a good sense of what’s right and wrong. And there are pirates in the next book, which I think Kid #3 would like. But I don’t want to be disappointed again. I am also afraid now to read Lindgren’s Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter. Kid #1 and Kid #2, who like to play “homeless kids living in a cave,” might enjoy the part where Ronja lives by herself in the woods. But what if they don’t? And worse, what if I don’t? I am selfishly afraid that I will lose the magic I associate with reading Lindgren’s books.

Have you ever been disappointed by rereading a book you have previously treasured?

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(Read for Classic Children’s Literature Month hosted by Simpler Pastimes.)

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19 comments

  1. I’m so sad for you. I have a more positive experience – my boys, aged 9 and 11 loved Pippi Longstocking. We were all delighted by her adventures. I never discovered Pippi when I was little – I would have adored her! The boys also really enjoyed Emil and the Detectives. I love reading the classics to them, even when I’m being a bit self-indulgent, like the time when I read ‘Anne of Green Gables’ to them earlier this year. True, they didn’t quite get Anne in quite the same way as my younger self but they did enjoy the story and I was tickled when my youngest wrote a letter to his favourite teacher at the end of the school year in which he described her as his ‘kindred spirit’! So the spirit of Anne lives on…
    But we do love reading aloud at the end of the day. I’ve written a list of our favourites:-
    http://suitcasesandsandcastles.com/2015/10/13/the-best-20-books-for-reading-aloud/

    • I’m happy to hear that your kids liked Pippi a little better than mine. We’ve started reading Astrid Lindgren’s Ronja the Robber’s Daughter, and that is working much better so far. And I can’t wait until they are old enough for Anne of Green Gables. That was another of my childhood favorites.

  2. Really interesting topic! I tried to read Pippi last year for the first time, at 25, and it was a train-wreck. I just couldn’t get on board with how outlandish the plot was — even though, as you said, I’ve gladly accepted much more ridiculous plot lines. I think maybe both things are true — the book hasn’t translated well to the world we live in now, and you’re older. Our perspectives change all the time. I’m sorry to hear that the spark was gone this time around — maybe shelve them again for a little while?

    • I think curiosity will get the better of me, and I will try to read Lindgren again… in a couple of months or so. I can see where a new adult reader wouldn’t get on well with Pippi. But I loved those books so much as a child that it makes me sad to think that they might be outdated today. But on the bright side, there are a good number of children’s classics that are indeed timeless and a whole bunch of new ones that are fun as well.

  3. I know what you mean — I want so much for my son to love the same books that I did! Interestingly I had never read Pippi as a child and when I did so with him, neither of us was so impressed either. Maybe it really is that times have changed! I want to read “Ronia” with him (which I loved) and see if that is any different.

  4. Oh, it’s too bad the magic is gone. Alas, that sometimes happens–I had that problem last year with The Wizard of Oz. I’m interested to hear that the magic isn’t there for your kids–I guess it’s not what I would necessarily have expected (although I’ve never read Pippi Longstocking), as it seems that usually we associate losing magic of a story with being too old for a book (having moved past it). Hopefully you can find a book or series to read with them that will be magical for all.

    • Sadly, they just didn’t like the book as much as I had hoped they would. I dn’t think they could relate to it very well. But we also read Little House in the Big Woods, and that was a much better experience.

  5. I would be heart broken if my children didn’t love a book or series like I did when I was their age. I don’t have children yet but I have much younger siblings. I remember trying to convince one of my sisters to read Anne of Green Gables and she wasn’t having it. Much like Naomi’s daughter, she found them boring. Ugh. I think that a lot of the old stories are much slower burning. I found reading Anne that each chapter was kind of like a short story that together told the story of a life. Books like Divergent and The Hunger Games are about a period of time in a life and the whole thing must be read together for it to make sense. They are adrenaline reads, while Anne is much more bucolic. It’s sad to think that our childhood favourites might not stand the test of time.

    • Action-wise, Anne can’t keep up with The Hunger Games, that’s for sure. I do hope that my kids will love Anne, when they are old enough for those books. I have to keep my fingers crossed!

  6. I loved Pippi, too! I thought it would be so fun to live by myself and do whatever I wanted. (I was also secretly glad that I couldn’t, because I knew I’d be scared to be on my own.) And, like you, I was excited to read it to my kids, and they liked it but they didn’t love it. Same as your experience. However, I have also had this experience with the Anne books (not me, but my kids). My oldest daughter is 13, and when she was 12 she tried reading Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea, but pronounced them boring. I tried not to show that my heart was breaking. I suggested she wait a year and try again, but I’m not holding out much hope. I don’t know what it is. Has she zipped right past the time for it? Has she been spoiled/ruined/altered by reading books like The Hunger Games, Divergent, City of Bones? Does Anne seem too childish to her now, or is the descriptive writing in it too passive and gentle compared to her action-packed dystopian novels? I am now re-reading Anne (in the same read-along that Eva is doing), and I still love her. Just differently. I’m relating more with Marilla now, than I am with Anne. I’m curious to see how I will view her life once she’s grown with her own kids.
    I just remembered that the same daughter loved the Little House on the Prairie series a few years ago. Have you tried those ones?

    • It’s a bit bittersweet, to revisit childhood favorites and not loving them as much anymore, isn’t it? I’m ok with loving them differently, but if they can’t hold up, I find it heartbreaking. I’ve read Little House in the Woods with my oldest, and she really liked it. I’m sure we’ll read more. I am thinking about giving her the complete boxed set for her birthday. (Isn’t that a good excuse for buying it?)

  7. I was given a set of Enid Blyton books two or three years ago. I adored Blyton as a kid, and she inspired my love of reading and of crime fiction. But… I find them almost completely unreadable now, and can’t quite see what it was that appealed to my younger self. I’m about to re-read the Narnia books soon – and I’m scared…

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