Children’s Books – My Recommendations
The last few weeks, I have so far recommended my favourite fiction and non-fiction choices. And now it is time to talk about children’s books! When I was a child, I was a very avid reader. You would never see me without a book, and my library card was my most precious possession. Even though I don’t have children of my own, I still fondly remember the books that I read as a child.
The fiction I indulged in when I was younger, was often about rebellious strong girls and they inspired me to be a questioning and rebellious child myself. Some of the characters were my role models, others, I wanted to be friends with. I loved reading about adventures, about animals, about travel and excitement.
I didn’t grow up in an English-speaking country so I didn’t even hear about characters like Dr. Seuss or Alice in Wonderland before I was a teenager. Growing up in Germany, children’s literature was very much influenced by Scandinavian authors in the 1980s. A lot of the books were also turned into TV shows and movies during that time, so it was fabulous to see your favourite characters on the screen, following their adventures yet again.
Just like a lot of the older children’s literature from the UK and the USA, some of the books I loved as a child might be a little outdated in the way they look at race, at gender or at the family unit these days. But I personally think that we need to read books in the context of the time they got written. Anachronistic views on literature, or other forms of creative expression, are seldom helpful.
So here you go, here are my recommendations for children’s books, focused on my two favourite children’s books authors: Astrid Lindgren and Michael Ende.
My favourite children’s book author is Astrid Lindgren. She is Swedish and she has written dozens of incredibly exciting and fantastic piece. She is a national treasure in Sweden (when I used to live in Stockholm, I walked past her house many times, well, the house she used to live in and that is now a sort of shrine for fans), but her books got translated into many languages and are especially beloved in Germany. Here are some of her books and characters that I love the most.
As a girl in Germany in the 1980s, you just had to read Pippi Longstocking. There are several books with tales around this rebellious nine-year-old with superhuman strength and powers. She lives in a house in a Swedish town together with her pet-monkey Mr. Nilsson and her horse. Her mother passed away and her father is a captain travelling the south seas. She has a chest full of gold coins, so she is able to survive without any parental supervision. Her best friends are the siblings Annika and Tommy, who often are the voice of reason in the stories.
She likes to stand up for those that are mistreated, she doesn’t mind spending money on those that she loves, and she goes against everything that society would make you think a girl her age should be and do. She fights criminals. she overeats candy, she skips school and she goes on adventures.
While she has superhuman powers (she can lift her horse, she can ride a bike with no wheels etc), the stories seem realistic. The character has a lot of depth to her. She might seem like this careless fun-loving, sometimes angry, little girl, but she also feels lonely and carries a sadness in her.
Is Pippi a great role model for girls? I would say yes. She defies rules that seem very stringent, she doesn’t allow injustice, and she is a great friend. But not only that, she has a fantastic curiosity, showing that you can learn new and exciting things even outside of the limiting curriculum of school.
Ronja Robber’s Daughter
This book is about the adventures of another strong female character created by Astrid Lindgren. Ronja is the only daughter of a chief of a band of robbers in early-medieval Scandinavia. They live in a castle that has been struck by a lightening bolt, and eventually a rival band of robbers moves in to the other side of the castle. The son of the chief of the rival band, Birka, becomes Ronja’ s best friend. And during an especially dreadful winter, Ronja smuggles food to the poorer rivals, thus helping them to survive.
One thing leads to another, and Birka gets captured by Ronja’s father. Ronja decides to solve the situation by giving herself up to Birka’s father and pressuring them into a prisoner exchange. Her father is furious, and Ronja and Birka decide to flee into the woods where they live in a cave, and experience the fantastical wildife, trolls and other magical figures.
Ronja is just as rebellious as Pippy is. She doesn’t even follow the moral codes of robbers. She doesn’t want to live the rough life her father is living, but decides to go her own way, living in harmony with the wildlife and her best friend.
The Brothers Lionheart
Nope, I am not done with Astrid Lindgren books yet, because that woman has written so much great fiction, I had trouble not mentioning all of her pieces! The brothers Lionheart is a sad book: it is about poverty, death, illness suicide – but it also about loyalty, brotherly love and adventure. The story is about the brothers Jonatan and Karl. Karl suffers from terminal tuberculosis, and his brother tries to soothe him by telling him about the afterlife: a place called Nangijala. A wonderful place where all men eventually end up.
In an evil turn of fate, both brothers meet again in Nangijala. And things are not as rosy as they were supposed to be. A tyrant is ruling the afterlife and they fight him, together with helpful magical creatures, and show courage and strength. But even Nangijala is not the end of the road. There is a place beyond, a place where only positive adventures happen, Nangilima. In a heartbreaking scene, the brothers make their way to the better afterlife.
There is a dark and melancholic tone in the whole book, and it is quite philosophical for a children’s story, dealing with topics that many children don’t have to face yet. But still, it is the number one bestseller of Astrid Lindgren’s books and I think it has to do with that many adults actually fell in love with the story. The movie based on the book is fantastic, by the way.
Mio, my son
This book by Astrid Lindgren is about a poor boy called Bosse who got adopted by an elderly couple who hates children. His life is quite miserable. But eventually, through the help of magic, he finds out that he is the lost son of a king in a world far away. His real name is Mio and he soon has to embark on a journey to fight an evil knight called Kato, together with his friend Jum-Jum and Miramis.
This book reads very much like a fairytale: a poor boy who is a prince and then has to go on an adventure to rescue the kingdom. Yet again, Lindgren shows that there is courage and strength in everyone, no matter position in society.
Emil of Lönneberga
Last books by Astrid Lindgren that I recommend, I promise! Emil of Lönneberga is a book series all about a little Swedish boy. Actually, I think these are the most Swedish books by Lindgren. Emil and his family live in an idyllic farm in Swedish Småland, close to a smaller town called Vimmerby. The books are about farmlife, about family and about Emil’s pranks.
He might come across as a malicious little bugger, but he really just is thoughtless and curious. Most of his pranks are more ways to help others that go wrong. His father punishes him by locking him into a shed, so he can think about what he did. But Emil doesn’t really dislike being stuck there, he uses the time to carve wooden figurines.
The books are very funny and also quite soothing, telling the readers about the rural lifestyle in Sweden, with all its happiness and tragic. There are a few films based on the books, and they are all wonderful adaptions.
Michael Ende is THE modern German children’s books author. He wrote books for adults too, and was often frustrated that many limited him to his children’s books, but what can you say? He wrote some epic books that are about the fantastical, about adventure, magic and growing up. His stories have depth, display a criticism of modern society, and also embrace some interesting philosophical thoughts.
The children’s novel Momo by Michael Ende is about the concept of time. The girl Momo is a bit of a mysterious character, not knowing her own age or where she comes from, she is a pillar of society. She has the ability to really listen to people and to give them advice. She becomes very beloved in the neighbourhood and everyone turns to her when they have a problem. But things turn bad when The Men in Grey arrive. They say they come from a bank that can store time for people, so everyone starts saving time: by cutting out social activities, sleep, food and creativity. The Men in Grey are not really bank managers though: the only way they can survive is by smoking the leaves of the hour lillies (representing an hour of time) in the form of cigars.
Momo realizes the scam and fights to save the people who are dear to her. She meets up with Father Time and a turtle who can see into the future, and together they come up with an idea to save the stressed and dying people.
The story is very deep and has many layers. If you read it as a kid, you are all in it for the magic and the adventure. As an adult, you can see a reflection of the stress and time management that many of us deal with in our contemporary societies.
The Neverending Story
If you have not read this book, do it, now! Order it, go to the library, just, do it! It is one of the best books ever written! It is about a book in a book. You are reading a book about the main character, Bastian, reading a book, and someone in that book, actually starting communicate with him.
Bastian is a pretty normal boy, a bit geeky maybe, and hence doesn’t have a lot of friends. So when he finds the book “The Neverending Story”, he hides in the attic to indulge in it, all by himself. Little did he know, that we about to embark on the greatest adventure ever, where he is to save a the warrior Atreyu and the land Fantastica, that is threatened to be devoured by The Great Nothing. Long story short: there are flying huge dogs, wolves, talking turtles, people made out of stone (yes, this where Frozen II stole the idea from), little tiny people and a palaces, horses and the loss of memory.
It is a fantastic story! The movie adaption is pretty decent too, although it leaves out some important parts from the book.
And that was it. These are my children’s books recommendations. I know that by focusing on only two authors, I have left out many great books and authors who I also admired as a child. Like Enid Blyton, for instance. But Astrid Lindgren and Michael Ende are the leaders of the genre for me still.