Ah, Pippi Longstocking. It is impossible not to love this girl. Gutsy, fierce and the ultimate powerful feminist, I think I’d secretly like to be Pippi. Anyway, something interesting happened yesterday whilst doing a Pippi Longstocking workshop for my Magic Pencil after-school club. One of the girls who has been coming along for some time, I’ve found it difficult to engage her. I don’t feel she doesn’t want to be there, but I do think the group discussions and writing activities are a challenge for her which is, of course, no bad thing. However, when I introduced our friend Pippi Longstocking yesterday and read a chapter of her book preceding a writing activity, this girl couldn’t stop laughing. It was honestly the most animated I have ever seen her.
She had never heard of Pippi Longstocking before yesterday which I was a little surprised to hear, but why, really, should she have done? Her creator Astrid Lindgren was Swedish, born in 1907 and Pippi, one of Sweden’s most famous exports may be known and loved across Europe and North America but far less so the rest of the world. When I told this same girl what she had missed in the previous session, a workshop based around Alice in Wonderland’s swallowing of the ‘Drink Me’ potion, again, she looked fairly blank. My first reaction was surprise as Alice, I was sure, was known the world over. But of course, this attitude revealed a great deal more about me and far less about the girl in question. Because yes, Pippi Longstocking and Alice in Wonderland are inspiring, strong, independent fictional characters but does Kenya have its own host of strong female role models? Of course it does, I just don’t know about them and I really should.
Three generations of Kenyan school children have grown up reading the adventures of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, set in a distant time and place, talking in a strange dialect and having the kind of adventures that are very difficult for kids here to relate to. As Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, the Nigerian writer, talks about so eloquently in her TED talk ‘The danger of a single story’ (which I urge you to watch), a person’s authentic voice (in writing and other forms) can only be found if they eschew the myth of a single story and start to create from one’s own reality and truth.
This has spurred me to dig deeper into the rich storytelling tradition of the African continent, particularly in Kenya. But in the meantime, if Pippi Longstocking and her exploits can amuse and inspire, then that makes me very happy. At the end of the writing session yesterday, this ten year old girl sidled up to me and whispered ‘Can I borrow the book?’ This is the first time she has asked to borrow a book the whole time she’s been coming to the writing club and as she walked away, before she’d even got in the car she had her nose buried in it. Good old Pippi.
Astrid Lindgren and ‘Pippi Långstrump’ during the making of the 1969 film