The Years with Rabén & Sjögren

The success of Pippi Longstocking led to rapid growth in the publishing firm of Rabén & Sjögren to the point where Hans Rabén, the boss, had begun to complain about his workload. He had a good friend by the name of Elsa Olenius who, at that time, was a leading authority in the world of children’s literature in Sweden. She then suggested that he employ Astrid Lindgren who was able to type as well as take shorthand. In 1946, Astrid was put in charge of the distribution of children’s books, which meant she found herself in the unusual situation of having a dual role in the publishing house.

Astrid’s enormous capacity for work was recognised by many. Carrying out the demanding work of an editor/publisher simultaneously with one’s own writing is undeniably worthy of praise. In the morning she would sit at home in bed, writing her books in shorthand. Then after a quick lunch and a brisk walk to the office at Tegnérgatan, she would start her afternoon occupation as editor of children’s books.

An out-of-the-ordinary capacity for work

The job comprised a range of tasks. She had to meet with both authors and illustrators, proofread texts and write letters of refusal. She had to make decisions concerning publications for distribution abroad, not to mention having authors home to dinner, as well as attending bookshop exhibitions where she would promote her publisher’s books. She got to put many of her talents to good use. She was able to write texts for back covers and advertising copy for catalogues, as well as being a fast and accurate typist. She was a fast reader too. Besides all that, she had acquired a good eye for pictures, partly through a brief time at art school, and was therefore good at choosing and ordering the right pictures for book covers.

Children’s literature was coming into its own

The publication of children’s books was going well. It was lucrative and the number of book titles was steadily increasing. By and large, Astrid was given a free hand and had responsibility for the recruitment of authors as well as for the choice of titles. She saw the emergence and progress of a major part of Swedish children’s literature. Among the authors were: Lennart Hellsing, Harry Kullman, Åke Holmberg, Viola Wahlstedt, Anna-Lisa Lundkvist and Edith Unnerstad. Later came Barbro Lindgren, Hans Peterson and several more. Some authors, Lennart Hellsing and Harry Kullman for example, wrote so well that their books were already perfect when they arrived at the publishing house. Other writers would often receive little tips and advice as to how they could improve their texts.

Astrid had strong opinions about what was important when writing books for children and teenagers. The introduction should immediately capture the attention and it is important to use words and concepts that children understand and can relate to. Apart from all this, the book simply has to be good.

For some years Astrid single-handedly looked after the distribution of children’s books at the publishing house alongside the marketing of her own books abroad. In the early fifties she was assisted by Marianne Eriksson, as publishing secretary, and Kerstin Kvint who began as Girl Friday and eventually became responsible for all sales outside of Sweden.

Children have a right to their imagination

Astrid participated regularly in debates about children’s literature and the children’s book market. This she did through articles and comments in various publications, and she made a great contribution in elevating the status of children’s books. In 1958 she wrote the article That’s why children need books, in a magazine called Skolbiblioteket (The School Library), where she expressed her thoughts about fantasy and imagination; that fantasy is important for all of us, and that “a child’s imagination needs books in order to live and breathe”.

Her very strong standpoint, which was not necessarily shared by all at that time, was that children’s books should be produced to the same quality standards as grown-ups’ books and under the same financial conditions. Rabén & Sjögren’s vast successes were the result of all the good children’s books they had published over the years. Astrid was very irritated when the company inaugurated a grant and presented it to a writer of books for adults. She immediately demanded that they also institute one for children’s book writers, which they did. For Astrid’s 60th birthday, in 1967, The Astrid Lindgren Prize was introduced, which is still awarded every year in Sweden.

Astrid Lindgren and Marianne Eriksson outside the Rabén & Sjögren publishing house in Tegnérgatan, Stockholm – private coll.Hans Rabén and Astrid. © Stig-Göran Nilsson, Aftonbladet BildWriting in her bed at Dalagatan – from Astrid’s collectionHer work room at Dalagatan – private collection