One 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 There is nothing overtly outdated in this book, but it doesn’t fit well into how my family’s life is set up.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?
(Read for Classic Children’s Literature Month hosted by Simpler Pastimes.)