REVIEW: Karlson on the Roof

When I was very young I decided I was going to be Pippi Longstocking when I grew up. As far as I could see, this pigtailed, strong-armed girl was the perfect role model.

I read many of Astrid Lindgren’s children’s books including most of the Pippi Longstocking series, most of the Emil series and I loved the Bullerby children too.

I did not, however, come across Karlson until a few weeks ago and so I had to buy it.

One of the things I loved about Astrid Lindgren is the irreverence in her stories. Magical things happen and mostly the adults in the stories are too stupid or too wrapped up in their own concerns to notice. It’s up to the kids to save the day.

These are children’s books for children who want to read about incredible adventures and believe that anything is possible if you just stretch your imagination a little.

They are also for adults who want a little nostalgia and want to keep their childhood imagination alive… and that’s me.

Karlson on the Roof was written in 1955 but doesn’t seem to have been translated into English until 2008 (which is probably why it passed me by). This edition has illustrations by Tony Ross and they complement the text in exactly the same way as Quentin Blake’s illustrations complemented Roald Dahl’s words.

Smidge lives in a house in Stockholm with his parents and brother and sister. All that is missing is the dog that Smidge longs for.

One day he discovers someone else in residence. Karlson is living on the roof. Karlson is a little round man with a propeller on his back who can fly so the perfect place for him to live is on the roof, tucked behind the chimney.

Karlson and Smidge become friends. That is to say Karlson, who reckons he is the best at absolutely everything, persuades Smidge to do a lot of things he wouldn’t normally do and then disappears when it comes to answer for his actions.

This is classic Lindgren. There is a mischief involved, a devil-may-care attitude when it comes to adults and adventures and a lot of fun to be had.

Karlson and Smidge tackle burglars, fly around town, climb the rooves, put on a magic show and try to persuade Smidge’s parents (who don’t believe in Karlson) to let Smidge have a puppy.

It’s great fun, it’s beautifully illustrated and it’s everything a book for young children should be.

I’m going to have to start collecting the Astrid Lindgren books again. There are absolutely loads of them so it may take a while.

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