‘One day Jonas asked me, “Which do you like the best – the sun, the moon, or the stars?” I said that I liked them all, but maybe the stars just a little bit more because they shine so beautifully on Christmas night, and I love Christmas so much!’
Everything you need to know about Lotta Marten is crammed into this short story about Astrid Lindgren’s favourite naughty little sister. She swears at old ladies, stuffs her face with overfilled cream puffs and tells lies to god, even at Christmastime.
Because she is such a young character (her age ranges from 3-5 in the various stories), Lotta can get away with anything and still remain fantastically adorable.
Take this typically Lotta-ish exchange with Mrs Fransson, the lady who comes to help clean the Martens’ house. Lotta insists on using only her surname, drawing criticism from her mother who bans the cleaner from answering to ‘Fransson’. The frustration this creates results in Lotta talking to her in the manner of a melodramatic film star: ‘Damn it, why are you mad with me Fransson?’
This is the second Christmas story Lotta appears in (the other is Lotta’s Christmas Surprise ). But this one has the huge advantage of being illustrated by Ilon Wikland and now in a new edition by Beatrice Alemagna – something that just about makes Christmas for me.
There is plenty of delicious Swedish detail here. The Marten’s House is filled with the the aroma of gingerbread, saffron buns and potted hyacinths. As Lotta points out their house has ‘the best smells.’
‘I like Christmas to smell different from any other day. We kept eating all day long and we dunked bread in a huge pot of broth on the stove. Which is a tradition with us at Christmastime.’
Lotta’s older, wiser sister narrates the story, providing important buffer between the reader and the young whirlwind. She helps tempers the craziness with moments of quiet introspection, and closes the story in reflective mood as they set off for a walk on Christmas morning.
‘It was so early that the stars were still out. That’s why I love the stars most of all. When the stars shine over our streets everything looks so unreal.’