I suspect most people who have heard of Astrid Lindgren know her through reading her most popular character, Pippi Longstocking. I was never a Pippi fan myself, although I have nothing against the books; in fact, before looking at Lindgren’s Wikipedia page to ascertain she was Swedish (instead of Norwegian, as I had always thought), I hadn’t made the connection between one of my beloved children’s books, Christmas in Noisy Village and the author of the pig-tailed heroine.
To me, the only book Astrid Lindgren had ever written (or ever needed to have written) was the one my grandmother gave me when I went off to college. After years of begging her to let me bring it home so I could read it again and again, she finally gifted me her beat-up, stolen from a library (in front of my mother, she claimed it was from a library sale, but I’m not convinced), brown-paged, torn-up copy of Christmas in Noisy Village.
I just checked. I could have bought my own on Amazon for somewhere between a penny and 6.99. For some reason though, I always believed hers was the only one…and I don’t want you to think I only believed that as a child. Until I went to Powell’s Books last week (it was epic – don’t even get me started on how I could live in that place for a year), I figured we probably owned the only copy in the world. Why shouldn’t I think that? I had never seen another one in any library or bookstore I had visited. No one I spoke to had ever heard of it. It’s not exactly a Caldecott winner. I just figured that it was one of thousands of children’s books that gets published every year, and somehow, my grandmother had managed to hang onto a copy from 1964.
And to be fair, I didn’t actually see Christmas in Noisy Village on the shelves at Powell’s, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it were there. No, as I was walking back to our predetermined (due to a potential lack of cell phone coverage – because, seriously, that place is huge) meeting place, I stopped to rebalance my stack of books and happened to glance up at the end cap to see Staff Picks. Although I rarely buy books from a section like this one, I’m always curious to see how my tastes line up with people who work in bookshops; on a good day, I’ve read maybe half of the suggested titles, but on average, I would say it’s more like a quarter.
So imagine my surprise when, amidst copies of Fifty Shades of Kindle Porn and Wheat Belly: How to Hate Your Life By Giving Up Your Favorite Foods (I’m just kidding – I think we can all agree that no self-respecting bookstore employee would admit to reading those, whether they have or not, and in fact, if you go to Powell’s Staff Picks, you can see just how great every single employee is at picking out books – it will blow your mind) I found a tiny volume that made me start to cry all over my precious book pile. Almost a year after my grandmother’s death, here was The Children of Noisy Village, a collection of stories about the seven children she had introduced me to all those years ago.
But why was it here?! How could this be a staff pick? It was just a little volume published in 1961 that had no right sharing space with the current crop of NYT’s bestsellers and hip indy books everyone pretended not to hate in high school. And yet there it was, with its familiar illustrations and the rhythmic writing that always called to mind my grandmother’s voice. I’ve already read it three times. I bought two copies, of course, although I’m holding my mother’s hostage for the moment. Every time I sit down with it, I’ve been reminded of my very favorite part of childhood – being read to – and I want to bottle that giddiness up.
My parents both read to us all the time when we were little, and my grandparents too. Both my brother and I were both reading fiends by the first grade because books were what my family did, what we loved. When my father couldn’t be home for dinner, my mother had novels that she read to us while we ate. When we moved to be closer to my dad’s job, and he made it home by six most nights, we started reading as a family after dinner instead. For Christmas most years, my mom would often write a story for one of us to be read aloud after all the other presents have been opened (and mostly forgotten). And from the time I was very young, bedtime reading was a given – a sacred part of the day that could not be compromised.
This was how I first heard Anne of Green Gables, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, The Princess and the Goblin. It was where my love of picture books developed, I’m sure, because my parents were never as patient or relaxed as when we looking through a book together. Even when, for years on end, my favorite story was Miss Rumphius – well, let’s just say that I went back and read it a few years ago to see if my preschoolers might be interested, and all I could think was that my father deserves a medal for the number of times he read it without a trace of sarcasm.
Finding this new book with the ability to connect me so deeply to the books I read as a child and loved – it was something special. I still can’t imagine how it came to be on that shelf on just the day I happened by on my first and only visit to Portland, but I trust implicitly in the magical properties of bookstores. That book was meant to find me, so it did what it had to in order to make it happen. Enough said.
To learn more about Astrid Lindgren, check out the official site.