“Let’s begin with my life and the way I lived it. We’ll take it from the start - from November 1907, that’s when I was born, in an old red house surrounded by apple trees, child number two of farmer Samuel August Ericsson and his wife Hanna, née Jonsson. The farm we lived on was, and still is, called Näs, and was situated not far from a small town in Småland called Vimmerby.”
Astrid Lindgren has often described her childhood as a very happy period - “we spent a blissful ‘Noisy Village-life at Näs, not much different to the children in the ‘Noisy Village-books” - with a constant feeling of security that the love of her parents gave her and energetic play with both her three siblings and many other children who also lived around the farm.
“There were two things that made our childhood what it was - security and freedom. It felt safe having those two who cared so much for each other and who were always there should we need them, but who otherwise let us roam free and happily discover the fantastic playground we had in the Näs of our childhood.”
But the days weren’t just filled with play. Näs was a tenant farm to the vicarage. Astrid’s parents rented the ground from the vicarage and farmed the land. It wasn’t a large farm, but big enough to need several people to run it. This was a time before industrialisation had reached farming - Astrid Lindgren has herself called this period “the age of horses”, a time when the horse was still the pillar of agricultural life. All hands were needed on the farm and the farmer’s children would work side by side with maids, farmhands and temporary workers.
“To a kid it was both fun and valuable to grow up the way I did with people of all shapes and kinds and different ages. Without them knowing and without knowing it myself, it was from them that I learnt a thing or two about the human condition and how tricky it can be to be a person.”
This was not just a time before agricultural machines were introduced, but also before the breakthrough of radio and television, which meant that an oral tradition of story telling was still the main source of entertainment. During breaks and mealtimes, evenings and work shifts, stories, tall tales, funny anecdotes and songs flourished. Astrid encountered or heard stories about countless people in her childhood that later ended up becoming the models for some of the most wonderful and singular characters in her books.
Astrid Lindgren’s parents were called Samuel August and Hanna. Both had been born in small villages outside of Vimmerby - Samuel August in Sevedstorp and Hanna in Pelarnehult.More about her parents
“How we played, my brother and sisters and I! From dawn till dusk. Tirelessly, full of excitement and joy, sometimes with our lives at risk - but that we didn’t understand.”More about the siblings
In 1914, at about the same time as The First World War broke out, Astrid Lindgren started first school. Astrid thought it was a little scary to start school and brought her mum Hanna along with her on the first day.More about Astrid in school
The Magic of Reading
“And we sat there on the floor, my brother and I, and I heard her read the wonderful story about the giant ‘Bam-Bam’ and the fairy ‘Viribunda’. Yes, I could have died right there on the spot! It was in that moment that my love of reading was born. With the impatience of a four-year-old I stared at the strange, black curlicues that Edit was able to interpret but not me, and that through some strange magic suddenly could fill the entire kitchen with fairies and giants and witches.”
There was a cottage at Näs where Sven, who took care of the Ericsson family’s cows and other animals, lived with his wife Kristin and their daughter Edit. Astrid and Gunnar loved playing at the slightly older Edit’s house. She had her own room in the attic with the most incredibly exciting things. There were dolls, bookmarks, little boxes with pearls and a few storybooks.
In Kristin’s modest kitchen there was a wooden sofa, a table, a couple of chairs and a wood-burning stove. It was in this kitchen, one day as the rain pounded against the windows, that Edit read four-year-old Astrid her very first story. When Edit read about the giant ‘Bam-Bam’ and the fairy ‘Viribunda’ the kitchen suddenly transformed into a magical place. “It set my little soul rocking and it has never really stopped.”
The kitchen became forever important. Astrid later recounted how almost all kitchens described in her books are actually based on Kristin’s kitchen.
“A childhood without books – that would be no childhood. That would be like being shut out from the enchanted place where you can go and find the rarest kind of joy”Astrid Lindgren, in "Vi husmödrar" 1956:10
The books that Astrid read
The siblings at Näs read everything they could get their hands on. The books remained a constant source of inspiration for their games. Sometimes they made up songs about the books. Once when Astrid was trying to get her little sister Ingegerd off to sleep she simply sang from the book she was currently reading.
Astrid describes herself how it felt to read as a child: “It was something that engaged your entire being, all your senses, sight, smell and touch, more intense than any other event in your whole existence as a child.” A new book was “something almost unbearably wonderful”.
It was at Christmas that the children received new books; otherwise they were borrowed off friends or at the school library. Astrid attests to an almost insatiable hunger for reading, where anything she could get a hold of - be it Anne of Green Gables or Tom Sawyer, to the adventurous tales of The Man with Fists of Steel and the King of the Champions - was read with equal wonder and benefit.
Several of the books that Astrid read as a child continued to be favourites throughout her life. They were later read aloud to both her children and grandchildren, who by Astrid’s voice experienced the stories’ magic. These included, for example, Treasure Island, A Little Princess and Daddy-Long-Legs.