Illustration: Maya E Shakur for FREDERICK & SOPHIE
Here’s a riddle for you. What do a nine-year old Indonesian adoptee living in The Netherlands and a nine-year old freckle-faced pirate’s daughter living in Sweden have in common? Pigtails? True. I wore mine long and black, whereas Pippilotta Victoriaria Tea-cosy Appleminta Ephraim’s-daughter Longstocking, or Pippi for friends, wore her two carrot-colored braids sticking straight out of her head. A love for animals? Also true. I loved my rabbit, gold-fish, dog, and any horse, cow, and giraffe I encountered in riding school, farm, or zoo as much as Pippi loved her monkey, Mr. Nilsson, and Alfonso, her horse. But when it came to super-human strength, supreme independence, and suitcases filled with golden coins, Pippi and I could not have been more different. She was fictionally fabulous, and I was… neither.
If I had to describe my child self, I was a rather shy bookworm whose neighborhood bully, Roy (you know who you are), had just stolen her favorite marbles (the large ones). Pippi hung bullies in trees, played tag with police officers who tried to put her into a children’s home, before carrying them out to the street, and told burglars they had to dance with her, which they did. She happily lived alone in Villa Villekulla. I was afraid of the dark with my parents sleeping in the room next to me and my dog guarding the home downstairs. The lace on my socks matched the ribbons in my hair, and my black lacquered Mary-Janes were spotless. Pippi was a rag-tag rebel who wore shoes that were several sizes too large. Looking different from my friends and family, I continuously wondered if I was the odd one out. Nobody could shake Pippi’s self-belief or take advantage. We could not be more different, and that’s exactly what pulled me into her realm. As Michelle Obama once said, “Pippi Longstocking was my girl, I loved her strength—not just her physical power, but the idea that she wouldn’t allow her voice to be diminished by anyone. She’s independent, clever and adventurous — and she’s clearly a good person, someone who always does right by her friends.” I could not agree more.
Pippi was my girl too. She spoke loudly to my deeply buried inner rebel. As did my two other favorite character-friends, Eloise at the Plaza and Roald Dahl’s Mathilda. Oh, the joy of Eloise’s rawther adventurous hotel-life on the tippy-top floor with Nanny, pug dog, Weenie, and turtle, Skiperdee! And oh, the retaliation of Matilda as she took on her ghastly parents by pulling pranks such as gluing her father’s hat to his head, hiding a parrot in the chimney to simulate a ghost, or secretly bleaching her father’s hair.
These three strong, independent, curious, and perfectly-fine-with-being-a little-different girls didn’t live by anyone’s rules but their own, served justice, and were my imaginary friends while growing up. What’s more… they still are! We all grew up though…
Nowadays, Matilda uses her love for books as the founder & owner of A Place to Read, a world famous children’s book café. Think colorful soft seats, cozy reading nooks and hammocks, Babyccinos and hot chocolate milk topped with marshmallows, book readings by the café’s team of storytellers, and book cabinets as high as the ceiling, all filled with children’s books that can be read during a visit, borrowed, or bought on the café’s online bookshop.
Eloise became a professional mischief-maker as the outspoken and flamboyant Editor-in-Chief of ELOISE, a fashion magazine for precocious adults who don’t follow fashion but who are clothes horses nevertheless. She still travels to Paris a lot, and charms and terrifies designers and assistants with her “Oh my Lords!”
And Pippi? Having lifted horses and broken rules since 1945, she decided to go in a different direction and is now a deep-sea biologist. One part scientist, one part explorer of the unknown seems to be the perfect choice for the girl who once said, “I have never tried that before, so I think I should definitely be able to do that.”
And me? Well, truth to be told, I grew up to become a mixture of my fictionally fabulous friends. I’m a terrible bookworm like Matilda, I now live in a hotel in Dubai, like Eloise did at the Plaza in New York, and I’m a thing-finder like Pippi. My title and business card say Chief Creative Officer, but that’s just a fancy grown-up word for thing-finder. In Pippi’s words: “A thing-finder is someone who finds things, you know? What else could it be? The whole world is full of things, and it’s really necessary for someone to find them.”
I search the world for things that I think can make kids around the world, and all inner children terribly happy! Things that trigger the imagination, invite to play and discover. Or things that are super soft to wear. Or things that smell like strawberries and flowers. The whole world is full of such wonderful things and it’s really necessary for me to find them.
Most and foremost, I freed my inner child rebel and let her speak whenever she wants through all the stories I write, and all that I do. She actually became my number one advisor. She told me that it’s much better to do what I want to do as a woman-entrepreneur-mom and not listen to people telling me what, why, and how I should live my life/run my business/be a mom. She has a point. The Absolutely Awesome Adventures of Frederick & Sophie and all of their notes and captions are written in her voice. My inner child rebel also has an unerring sense of justice, and we agree that kids things should reflect different cultures, races, and places as there’s nothing more magical than the beauty and strenght of diversity.
I grew into a strong, independent, curious, and perfectly-fine-with-being-a little-different woman who makes her world the way she likes it.
So…Who run the world? Fictionally fabulous girls, and those real-life rebels who hands on hips are unusual in every respect. May your unusual self find a happy place in Frederick & Sophie, may you sail the high seas, and may you sing Pippi’s words from the top of your lungs: “I am the sea and nobody owns me. Don’t let them get you down. Be cheeky, be wild, be wonderful! Heigh ho ho wa hee ha ha!”