Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lilibet Circus Child

Lilibet, Circus Child
Astrid Lindgren ~ Anna Riwkin-Brick
Macmillan, 1966

I was so intrigued by this book when I purchased it at a library sale because A) I can't help myself with books about the circus and B) I LOVE children's books told through photography. Written by the Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren of Pippi Longstocking fame, this a story in photographs of a wee circus girl name Lilibet. Published first in 1961, Astrid's Website gives further explanation of the creative relationship she had with the photographer.

"Anna Riwkin was born in 1908 in Russia, but grew up and made her career in Sweden. She is probably best remembered for her photographic books about children in different countries. The collaboration with Astrid Lindgren began with Noriko-San: Girl of Japan (1956) and continued with a string of photographic picture-books – My Swedish Cousins (1959), Circus Child (1960), to name but a few. What was characteristic of Anna Riwkin was her deep insight into the things that all people can relate to – things that we all have in common."

Now first, I wanna say, hers might be the swankiest writer's Website I've ever come across. The design is so simple, yet elegant, made all the more classy by the fact that each of her illustrators has been given their own autobiographical page. Whoever put the site together has done an excellent job of cataloging her work with loads of autobiographical information and photographs. Just sublime... but but back to the book at hand.

Lilibet is a circus child and her parents watch after the horses, thus, she dreams one day of becoming a circus equestrienne.

I'm Lilibet, and I have lots of horses.
"They're not your horses," says Leo. "They belong to the circus."
"That doesn't matter," I say. They're mine anyway."
Sometimes I get awfully angry with Leo. But I play with him everyday.

This clever tale follows Lilibet among the caravans as she visits "her" elephants, talks with the clowns, laments that monkeys and tigers have to be kept in cages, and of course, rides horses. The banter among Lilibet and her friends is competitive, but playful as they each seek to find a place for themselves among the circus folk.

When at last a clown gives her a magic string, telling her that if she ties it to the tail of a horse, her equine dreams will come true, she embraces the magic while at the same time understands that she has years of training ahead. Anytime we get to glimpse the unique life of a young person, I'm always tickled. That this little person's life was somehow frozen in time in a book is a marvel.

Boy, would I love to get my hands on some more of these in this series. She did a lot with Astrid (Matti Lives in Finland, Gerda Lives in Norway, Sia lives on Kilimanjaro - etc.) but also continued on in the series with other authors. Very cool. The only books in the last decade or so that have been done similarly are the Children Just Like Me books from DK. Can anyone think of anything else? I sure would love to see someone revive a series like this for today's children. What an amazing photo journey that would be.


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Books For Breakfast said...

I love when you blog about a lovely book that I must have, and I click the link, and discover that the book could be mine for five bucks or less. Alas, this is not one of those books. The price tag of this one makes me weep.

Kickcan & Conkers said...

Love this! The first photo is striking.

Jil Casey said...

So interesting to see this slice of life from the 60's.
By coincidence I almost posted another book by Astrid Lindgren last night called Randi Lives in Norway. I really like these vintage books with the black/white photography.

Burgin Streetman said...

BFORB... it looks like this might be the most expensive out of the series... some of the other books look a lot cheaper, so you might try going for one of those...

my3littlebirds said...

I don't know that I've ever left a comment here but I've really been enjoying your blog. I love vintage children's books, particularly those illustrated by the fabulous Eloise Wilkin. My kiddos love them too.

daysease said...

Intriguing... I would love to hold this one in my hands. Seems like excellent company for our Pipi Longstocking books. Wow. I think your collection of books must be an amazing treasure trove... Just drooling thinking about it... not because I want it but I know that I would gasp mightily to hold so many in my hands and look at them. thanks for sharing.

Burgin Streetman said...


and dayease... it is pretty mind boggling and it grows everyday and sometimes I just freak out and fill 15 boxes and drag them back to goodwill... just towering piles everywhere. My son has one of those oversized ikea bookshelves 14X14 double-shelved, a small bookshelf for goldens and beginning reader random house titles, and a few baskets full of paperback in his room but I try and keep it somewhat organized... it's my office that would make your head spin.

Sarah said...

Thanks for sharing this! I do LOVE Astrid Lindgren! A little plug for my library system and its wonderful collection: If you live anywhere near Philadelphia, you can contact the Children's Literature Research Collection at the Central Library and take a look at this book and many other lovely rarities! They also have a copy of Sia Lives on Kilimanjaro.

Also, I really like DK's A Life Like Mine and A School Like Mine, published in connection with UNICEF. Really nice photographs of kids around the world.

william said...

When I was 15 I was emancipated so I left with Coleman Brothers shows in 1971. I was pony wrangler so a book like this bring back memories no doubt. Today I own my own Carnival but remember these "simpler days" with fondness.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely photographer. Anna Riwkin's pics will live forever. Outstandig portraits. My favorite.

Dvorit Shargal said...

Hello dear Burgin
Just want to tell you (I can see that this post is from 5 years ago)
that I made 2 docu films about this series of books. BTW, Israel is the only place in the world that these books are still printed, from the 50' of the 20 century till today.
Hereby the 2 trailers of the 2 films:

-Where is Elle Kari and what happened to Noriko-san?



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