Monday, May 28, 2007

Danger Danger...

This week, I came home from the library with a stack of old friends (Knight's Castle, Pippi Goes Aboard) and a stack of new reads (Peter and the Starcatchers, The Wide Window).

(One of the perks to writing for kids is that you call this kind of reading "research")

And I had every intention of reading the Dave Barry Book. Really I did. But despite the awful new cover (why do publishing houses do that, put tacky new covers on classic books?) I couldn't resist Pippi.

So last night I re-read Pippi, and I have to say that I was a little surprised by the book, after all these years. Because now I'm a mom.

And I'd forgotten that Pippi is-- in addition to being a wonderfully funny liar, the strongest person in the world, and a delightful red-haired orphan living all on her own in a funny abandoned house in small-town Sweden-- also the greatrest fear of every overprotective neurotic GenX parent in the world.

Seriously, if you happen to be someone who wipes your kid's hands down with Purell, baby-proofs the laundry baskets, and reads informative websites about carseat recalls... then stay away from Pippi.

Yes, Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim's Daughter Longstocking is your nightmare. She'll move in next door and tempt your overly-protected children to abandon their senses. She'll teach them to climb into cages at the zoo, swim without water-wings, talk to all kinds of strangers, drink unidentified bottles of medicine, light fires, climb trees, and even (horrors!) eat lots and lots of high-risk-choking-candy.

Pippi doesn't do her homework, listen to silly grownups, or wear the proper undergmarments. She doesn't have a babysitter. She doesn't listen.

And of course I love her.

Because she doesn't teach lessons. Not at all. We don't learn anything from Pippi, except maybe that life is odd and people are interesting. Even the best (non-pulp) book for kids today tend to sneak a little morality into the mix, and Pippi doesn't. Pippi defies lesson-learning at every turn.

Which might lead one to assume there's a lesson of rebellion in the book...


Except that there isn't. Tommy and Anica (Pippi's little neighbors) are as tidy and well-behaved as the cobblestones in their little Swedish town. And she loves them as they are. They're timid and clean and polite and they do what they're told, and that's okay too. That's fine.

See? No lesson...

Of course, the book is also just totally genius in its dialogue. In the development of Pippi's (fairly complex) character. In its amazing use of humor.

But most of all, today... now... as a mom living in the age of spill-proof-eveything, handi-naps, and splinter-free toddlers... I love Pippi for being everything we fear.

Dangerous and rude and rebellious and filthy and precarious and accidental. And unafraid.

And I love timid Tommy and Anica for loving her, in their little pressed shirts.

So maybe that's a lesson.


atalanta said...

I have strong memories of Pippi crunching on nails. And I still kind of want to try it myself! Warped, I tell ya'.

Glad to see I'm not the only thirty-something obsessed with books for kids!

Jen Robinson said...

Oh, how I love Pippi, too. And I've always had a soft spot for Annika, because I played her in my second grade class play. It was brilliant casting, actually, because my much more dynamic friend Holly was cast as Pippi, and she was PERFECT. I'm going to have to re-read those books one day soon.

FIONA said...

So much in those books was lost on me as a child. I have rearead ALICE, and boy is that a different book through adult eyes. So was MARY POPPINS.

Now I need to reread Pippi, too.

PC4u said...

There used to be a Pippi show and I used to love to watch it and then I was just thinking of her the other day. I'm now going to get a few books to read with my nieces and nephews..I'm sure they will love them too.

Laurel said...


This comment made me laugh at myself, because my immediate association was with the movie Beaches. I found myself imagining the movie, but with Pippi singing, "Wind Beneath My Wings" to Annika"...

And Fiona, YES! I have great love for Mary Poppins, but the same kind of relationship as an adult... of realizing how diffeent the world was when it was written, when I read it as a child, and today, when no mother I know would let Mary stay in her house for more than a few hours! Can you imagine the lawsuits?

Pamela said...

Mary Poppins always scared the Pippi out of me.

Laurel said...

Really? I never thought she was scary... I just thought the idea of fancy British householding was neat. Dinner without my mom. Walks all the time.

Mandarina said...

That was such a beautiful reflection on my all-time favorite kid lit character. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts... you really hit the nail on the head. Long live Pippi!