Stepping into the World of Astrid Lindgren

Junibacken | Reproduction of Emil’s woodwork shed from Astrid Lindgren’s “Emil i Lönneberga” | photo: Classiq Journal

 
 
After having recently experienced Junibacken, the entire family has a new favourite book to look forward to reading every evening: Astrid Lindgren’s “Emil i Lönneberga” (“Emil of Lönneberga”). Junibacken, set on Djurgården island in Stockholm, is a magical place, a children’s museum, a children’s cultural centre with books at its heart. The aim is to awaken the desire to read, from the earliest age. “We want to encourage creativity and imagination – and show the way to the magic between the pages.” Is there anything more beautiful and nobler than that?

Junibacken started with Astrid Lindgren, the Swedish author of two of the most beloved children’s book characters in the world, Emil from Lönneberga and Pippi Longstocking. It was meant to create, inspire and stimulate in the spirit of Astrid Lindgren, but it was also crafted as a place where other writers of children’s books and illustrators could be showcased and inspire others. And the best part is that Junibacken is not only for children, but for adults, too. Because we never stop being children, do we? I hope not.
 
 

”I want to write for a readership that can create miracles.
Children create miracles when they read.”

Astrid Lindgren

 
 

Original illustration by Björn Berg for “Emil i Lönneberga” | Emil’s woodshed
Björn’s four year-old son Torbjörn, with his woollen hair and big blue eyes,
was the model after which Emil was shaped.

 
 
“Emil i Lönneberga” was not one of my childhood books, and in part I am glad for that because now I get to discover that world together with my son. And it’s wonderful. But I did have another Swedish character friend, Nils Holgersson, the creation of Selma Lagerlöf. I loved going on adventures with him through Sweden every time I wanted to. “The Wonderful Adventures of Nils Holgersson” remains one of my favourite children’s books of all time. I still have my childhood copy. It has yellowed pages, the cover has faded colours, it’s a little torn on its edges, but it has some of my childhood dreams still tucked in its pages and it’s one of the most treasured titles in my library – the new editions I see in bookshops have no appeal to me whatsoever. And it’s the copy I will start reading to my son when he grows a little older.

That said, I am quickly taking to Emil’s adventures, too. I like him. He is a little boy who lives with his family in the Lönneberga village of Småland, Sweden. He looks angelic, but he is wild and gets into so much trouble and does so many pranks that he turns his entire community upside down. His mischief doesn’t come from meanness though, but rather from curiosity, innocence and a lack in foresight. He really is a good boy. “That Emil in Lönneberga, he was a real pest of a boy, not at all as nice as you. But his mum loved him all the same,” Astrid Lindgren began her story. She had such a talent in talking about important things in a fun and easy way, in engaging the reader, a talent in teaching in a kind way. And I find it so moving how Emil, when he is sent to the woodwork shed every time after he has misbehaved in order to do some thinking, is getting creative. He is not bitter, he makes the best of his time alone by carving figurines out of wood.
 
 

Junibacken | Setting reproductions from Astrid Lindgren’s stories | photos: Classiq Journal

 
 
That woodshed, one of the details in the story I am mostly fond of, you get to experience it in person at Junibacken. The Storybook Train is a small train that takes you on a ride through some of Astrid’s stories. The settings were created by illustrator Marit Törnqvist in close collaboration with Astrid herself, faithfully reproducing scenes and illustrations from the books. You feel like you are stepping right into Astrid’s world, the narration and music getting you even closer to the stories. It’s a one of a kind experience.

The entire place, seeing all those marvelous creations made for the love of children and storytelling, simply put a smile on my face that lasted all day long despite the harsh Northern weather we endured that day, a smile that returns every tine I recall the experience. There are also exhibitions and theatre performances based on works by the Nordic region’s finest authors of children’s books – they put on over 1,600 performances per year, Junibacken being one of the largest producers of children’s theatre in Sweden. And, naturally, there is a children’s bookshop, another attraction point for any book lover, small or big. It’s all in the spirit of dreaming away, for children and adults alike.
 
 
 

As seen in the photos above:
The first edition of “Emil i Lönneberga”, published in 1963.
One of the few editions in English with original illustrations by Björn Berg
(yes, Emil has to look a certain way and his cap, too): available here.
The Penguin Classics edition of “The Wonderful Adventures of Nils Holgersson”: available here.

 
 

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