Study Guide

Pippi Longstocking Education

By Astrid Ericsson Lindgren

Education

Her dress was rather unusual. Pippi herself had made it. She had meant it to be blue, but there wasn't quite enough blue cloth, so Pippi had sewed little red pieces on it here and there. (1.12)

How many nine-year-olds do you know who can design and sew their own clothes? For that matter, how many fifteen-year-olds? Twenty-five-year-olds? Forty-year-olds? It's not an easy task, and Pippi's doing it without the necessary material, which means she has to improvise on the spot to make it work.

When the pancake was brown on one side she tossed it halfway up to the ceiling, so that it turned right around in the air, and then she caught it on the griddle again. And when it was ready she threw it straight across the kitchen right onto a plate that stood on the table.

[…]

And Tommy and Annika ate and thought it a very good pancake. (1.42-44)

Pippi's got some mad kitchen skills—minus, perhaps, the cleaning-up skill. But still, we're impressed with her ability to make pancakes from scratch and flip 'em like a pro. She could definitely have a future as a short-order cook.

Pippi could work fast, she could. Tommy and Annika sat and watched how she went through the dough, how she threw the cookies onto the cookie pans, and swung the pans into the oven. They thought it was as good as a circus. (2.16)

Without a single day of cooking school (or any school at all), Pippi could probably hold her own in a diner or bakery, or—if she does meat—maybe one of those flaming Hibachi restaurants. People go through years of education and apprenticeships to master these sorts of cooking-as-performance-art abilities, but Pippi seems to have it down before she hits her teens. Or her tweens.

All children must have someone to advise them, and all children must go to school to learn the multiplication tables. (3.1)

The fact that Lindgren cites multiplication tables as the big reason kids need to attend school seems to indicate that she's poking a bit of fun at the idea of mandatory education. 'Cause… multiplication tables? Sure it's nice to know off the top of your head that 9 x 12 = 108, but that doesn't seem to single-handedly justify twelve years of public school.

"But don't you understand that you must go to school?"

"Why?"

"To learn things, of course."

"What sort of things?" asked Pippi.

"All sorts," said the policeman. "Lots of useful things—the multiplication tables, for instance." (4.18-22)

Again with the multiplication tables. And this time it's a couple of policeman who can't come up with a better reason to go to school than this. It's worth noting that by all accounts Astrid Lindgren quite enjoyed school, so she probably wasn't trying to suggest that it's completely worthless. On the other hand, she was also a staunch advocate for children's rights. So… what could she be saying with all of this business about multiplication tables?

"[…] think how embarrassing it will be for you to be so ignorant. Imagine when you grow up and somebody asks you what the capital of Portugal is and you can't answer!"

"Oh, I can answer all right," said Pippi. "I'll answer like this: 'If you are so bound and determined to find out what the capital of Portugal is, then, for goodness' sakes, write directly to Portugal and ask.' […] For that matter, I've been in Lisbon with my papa," she added, still standing upside down, for she could talk that way too. (4.23-26)

Two questions: First, if Pippi knows all along that the capital of Portugal is Lisbon, why doesn't she just say so? And second, if these policemen had calculators and smart phones that could answer questions about Portugal and multiplication on the spot, what reasons would they give to convince Pippi she should attend school? What reasons would you give?

Of course Tommy and Annika went to school. Each morning at eight o'clock they trotted off, hand in hand, swinging their schoolbags. (4.1)

There's never any question about whether Tommy and Annika should attend school or not—we're simply told that of course they do. Does that mean that most kids should? Or does it simply mean that most people enroll their kids in school without question? Should people question the practice of registering and sending their kids to school at specific ages? Or does the system work for all but the most extreme cases, like Pippi? What do you think? What do you think Astrid Lindgren thought?

"Now, Annika, here's an example for you: Gustav was with his schoolmates on a picnic. He had a quarter when he started out and seven cents when he got home. How much did he spend?"

"Yes, indeed," said Pippi, "and I also want to know why he was so extravagant, and if it was pop he bought, and if he washed his ears properly before he left home." (4.40-41)

If you read this one closely, you can see that Pippi understands enough of the math to calculate that Gustav spent most of his money. (As she says, he was "extravagant.") So it could be that Pippi knows the answer to the teacher's question, just like she knew the capital of Portugal was Lisbon. Once again however, Pippi prefers to focus on the human aspects of the problem. Why did he spend the money? What did he spend it on? How's his personal hygiene? You can't deny they're good questions.

Pippi could tie good knots, she could indeed. She had learned that at sea. (10.35)

Like we said before, Pippi knows how to do a lot of things that other kids her age—and other adults—don't. Tying good knots is just one more example.

When she was sailing the ocean one of the sailors on her father's ship used to take her up on deck in the evening now and then and try to teach her to write. Unfortunately Pippi was not a very patient pupil. All of a sudden she would say, "No, Fridolf … bother all this learning! I can't study any more now because I must climb the mast to see what kind of weather we're going to have tomorrow." (11.3)

It doesn't surprise us that someone with Pippi's energy would have a hard time sitting still for writing lessons, especially on a ship in the middle of the ocean, and even more especially at the age of—what?—six, seven, eight? Not everyone is ready to sit down and practice their letters at that point. More importantly though, is what Pippi can do at this age: climb the mast and analyze the sky to determine the next day's weather. So does that make her gifted or a candidate for an attention deficit disorder diagnosis?