Six Classic Swedish Children’s Books to Read

Children’s literature of Sweden has had an outsized effect on global books for kids, thanks in part to a few memorable and delightful characters like Pippi Longstocking and Alfie Atkins. While there are so many Swedish children’s books to love, we’ve chosen a few that can serve as the building blocks of your child’s library (or your own – adults should read kids’ books too!), and that you’ll love reading with your family over and over again.

These are the classic Swedish children’s books that bring joy and wonder to readers, young and old:

List Marker: Number 1Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

First appearing in 1945, Pippi Longstocking has charmed children and adults alike with her incredible adventures, pet monkey Mr. Nilsson, and bright red pigtails. When she moves into Villa Villakulla next door to Tommy and Annika, the two are fascinated by her independent lifestyle and superhuman strength. It is her ability to solve problems with kindness, however, that makes her a true role model.

The series is made up of three books: Pippi Longstocking (1945), Pippi Goes on Board (1946), and Pippi in the South Seas (1948). These books have been translated into 76 languages and various parts of the books have been turned into picture books and films over the years.

Author Astrid Lindgren, a national treasure in Sweden, has written many wonderful books, but Pippi remains her most lasting legacy. Lindgren has said that Pippi “Pippi represents my own childish longing for a person who has power but does not abuse it.”

Pippi Longstocking (Pippi Långstrump)

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List Marker: Number 2The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlöf

This a rare book that is part adventure and part historical document. Published in 1906, the book is a the result of a national commission to create a geography reader for schools. Author Selma Lagerlöf devoted three years to studying various folklore and narratives of the Swedish provinces to make sure she included all she could. She also included the Swedish spelling reforms mandated by government resolution in 1906. Today, the book typically includes both the original version and the sequel, The Further Adventures of Nils (1907).

The story focuses on a young boy, Nils, who mistreats animals on his family farm. He catches an elf (called a tomte in Swedish), who then turns Nils himself into an elf. Nils grabs on to the wing of a farm goose that flies to join a flock of wild geese flying overhead, and his journey across the provinces of Sweden begins. As Nils flies over the country, the reader also follows subplots with characters in the provinces. This is a true adventure book with a deep love of Sweden and nature.

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils
(Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige)

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List Marker: Number 3Mama Moo by Jujja and Tomas Wieslander

This beloved series of books – originally based on a radio play and subsequently turned into books, games, and albums – follows the sweet, silly adventures of a talking cow, Mama Moo, and her best friend. The books first appeared in 1993 and have been translated into 30 languages since.

Mama Moo (Mamma Moo)

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List Marker: Number 4Goodnight, Alfie Atkins by Gunilla Bergström

Alfie Atkins, known as Alfons Åberg in Swedish and Danish, appeared in the first of his 24 book series in 1974. He’s a young boy who is in a hurry to grow up. Along with his kind father (there’s no mother in the stories), Alfie goes through everyday moments that all children will relate to. When he’s very young, his days are accompanied by his invisible friend Malcom (Mållgan); as he grows, real friends come into the picture.

The appeal of Alfie lies in his ordinariness; he is sometimes happy, sometimes mad, sometimes afraid, and sometimes brave. They’re small, sweet stories that are full of cheer and charming illustrations, also by Bergstöm.

Goodnight, Afie Atkins (Alfons Åberg)

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List Marker: Number 5Can You Whistle Johanna? by Ulf Stark

When Berra decides he wants a grandfather like his friend Uffe, the two boys go to a retirement home to find one. This a beautiful, sad-at-times story of cross-generational friendship and the power of reaching out for the love you need. The book first came out in 1993 and it’s since been made into a classic Swedish film.

This is a tough book to find in its English version, so snap up a copy if you see one!

Can You Whistle Johanna? (Kan Du Vissla Johanna?)

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List Marker: Number 6Goodbye Mr. Muffin by Ulf Nilsson

A wonderful, gentle book about a difficult subject, Goodbye Mr. Muffin will help you discuss the topic of death – that of a pet or person – in a way that makes sense and isn’t scary. The book is the story of Mr. Muffin, a guinea pig who is reflecting on his long life.

Topics such as the afterlife, death rites, and saying goodbye are approached with sweet simplicity; if you’re wondering how to speak to your young child about death, this book provides a good framework and language to do so.

Goodbye Mr. Muffin (Adjö, Herr Muffin)

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Rebecca Thandi Norman

Rebecca Thandi Norman is a co-founder and Editor-in-Chief at Scandinavia Standard.