I couldn’t read the last chapter of Pippi Goes Aboard to my daughter last night. Although she seems unphased that Pippi Longstocking is getting on that boat and leaving Sweden forever, I on the other hand, am completely heartbroken. What will poor Tommy and Annika do without Pippi? What will Villekulla Village do without her?
Ever since S started the first grade we have switched from picture books to chapter books. She knew all the Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious stories by heart and we felt it was time to move on to more sophisticated stories. So I thought maybe it was time for Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lingren. I found a version illustrated by Lauren Child in our school library. S loved Lauren Child’s “Charlie and Lola” so she was willing to give this book with mostly words a try.
Each night we learned something new from Pippi.
Girls can survive by themselves. When we first meet Pippi she is without parents. Her mother had died when Pippi was young and her father had mysteriously vanished on the high seas in a storm. She shows up at Villlekulla to live on her own in a big giant house with her monkey and horse. She cooks, she cleans, she repairs, and she sings herself her own lullaby before bed.
Girls can be physically strong. Pippi can easily scale the walls of her house and then swing off the rooftop onto the ground below. She can rescue children from a burning house by taking a plank and wedging it from tree to window. When her horse gets tired, instead of riding him, she carries him. She even beats her father in a battle of strength.
Girls are courageous. Pippi handles dangerous situations by using humor and playing dumb and then….Kapow! the bad pirates are foiled by her cunning and strength. Pippi is never confrontational. She never yells or bullies, but she will also not run away from a fight. When the burglars enter her home to steal her gold, she makes them dance with her and play music until they are too tired to steal. When she sees a farmer abusing his horse, she carries the horse away and makes the farmer haul his goods for himself.
Girls are generous. Pippi has an inheritance of gold coins. She spends her money on big parties for the community children or circus tickets for everyone. Yet in spite of all that money, what is most important to her are the simple things: making morning feasts of pancakes for Tommy and Annika, putting ginger beer in the hollow tree for her friends to find, making sled runs off the roof of her house for the neighborhood children.
Girls are creative. Pippi creates her own fun. She tells story after story to captivate her audience. She tells stories to make people laugh, she tells stories to give her friends courage, or she tells stories to throw the villains off their game. She is proud of her personal style and doesn’t seem to mind the stares she gets from passersby. She hunts for ordinary treasure wherever she wanders. And she shows us that being shipwrecked can be a solution rather than a problem.
But what about the Princesses? Its not that the Brüder Grimm princess stories have no value. Who doesn’t love the timeless tales of Snow White (Schneewittchen), Sleeping Beauty (Dornröschen), and Cinderella (Aschenputtel)? Every girl my age dreamed that one day she would be rescued from her hum-drum life by her perfect prince. The stories made our lives look average. The message of the stories made us think that we needed to escape from our life rather than find joy in it. And although Disney has done its best to create more real-life, empowered female princesses (Beauty and the Beast’s Belle, Mulan, Brave‘s Merida, Frozen‘s Anna) there still seems to be a man at the end of the story to secure the heroine’s future.
Yet with Pippi we see no fairy tale ending. Instead of escaping from her life she lived to find the adventure in each average day. She does become the cannibal princess of Canny Canny Island but this is a station without glamor or wealth. And in the end, Pippi rides alone into her future on the decks of the Hoppetossa. She is not bound to a prince or place, she is bound only to the call of adventure on the High Seas.
Last night we read Pippi’s After-Christmas Party again. I figured it was much more fun to celebrate with candle-lit trees and cream cakes than to say goodbye to our heroine. Maybe tonight I’ll have the courage…or maybe we should re-read her adventures with the Canny Cannibals on Canny Canny island…
What stories impacted you as a child? With which heroes and heroines did you seek out for adventure?
Categories: English Literature