The story behind Emil

“Do you know what Emil i Lönneberga once did?”, Astrid suddenly asked her three year-old grandchild who was screaming his head off. Karl Johan went quiet, because he was rather keen to know what Emil had done.

That was back in August 1962, and Emil was born. On 22 December that same year, Astrid called Björn Berg and asked him if he would illustrate a book that was going to be published the following year. She had seen his drawing of a little boy on the Djurgården ferry in a book about Scandinavian capital cities. That’s what Emil looked like. She was in no doubt, because that was the boy she had seen in her mind’s eye. Björn’s four year-old son Torbjörn, with his woollen hair and big blue eyes, became the model for the first book about Emil.

There are several people, events and places that have been sources of inspiration for Astrid, as she wrote these stories. It’s the picture of Vimmerby at the beginning of the 20th century that Astrid is painting when Emil’s family is travelling up from Katthult to visit the Vimmerby fair. Emil’s character is not based on any one particular person, but there are traces of Astrid’s dad, Samuel August and of her brother Gunnar. Samuel August had an unusually good memory and functioned as a living encyclopaedia for Astrid, while she was writing the books. Even then, in the autumn of his life, he remembered what you would’ve had to pay for a pig or a fire hose at the Vimmerby fair. He was also a very good story-teller. Several of the events described in the Emil books are reality-based. That Thor and Freya were the first humans on earth and that the big annual holidays are Christmas, Easter and the Vimmerby fair, are stories that Samuel August had heard and retold.

Emil och Astrid tecknade av Björn Berg

Emil and Astrid, by Björn Berg