Thursday, February 17, 2011

On the Museum of Childhood, Playhouses, and Pippi Longstocking

There is nothing in the world that can make you feel as childlike and ancient at the same time as a Museum of Childhood. I know, because I went to one today, and not only did I want to play with all of the toys, but I also wanted to push all of the small, screaming children out of my way to get to them. 

Crossing the floor of the Museum of Childhood was like traversing a room full of kinetic ping pong balls--there was always something tiny and moving underfoot. Children were constantly bumping and flying into my legs/hips/purse and ricocheting off into new trajectories without even noticing I was their obstacle. It was kind of awesome. Half the time I was tempted to bounce them off of each other just to see where they'd end up. They were so much more fun than the shouting hordes of older children that frequent the other museums around town. (A-hem, Natural History.)

Look at this: two entire floors of antique toys and dollhouses and things to play with and explore. All free! All the time! It's part of the V&A even though it's located across town in Bethnal Green. Who knew??

Speaking of feeling ancient: the dollhouse that my sister and I grew up playing with was in the Antique Playhouses section. That's right. Antique. My sister and I played with it over twenty years ago. Which we won't dwell on right now. And it also turns out--going by the signage--that it was created roughly forty years ago. Just like most of the toys in my grandmother's playroom. This was one of my mother's treasures that my sister and I inherited.  As soon as I saw it in the glass case, I dropped instantly to my knees to get a photo, bouncing away the children admiring its prehistoric qualities.

You see those two little yellow twin beds on the left? They were originally covered in a green styrofoam-esque substance. Our foam also disintegrated, leaving behind the same sticky residue you see here. We also had the same blue playpen upstairs, and the rocking horse, too. But no sewing table, which I had no idea I was missing out on until now. * stomping foot in the general direction of my mother, who I'll bet had it when she played with this the first time around * And the white column that the house pivots on? I used to pretend that was a ladder, which was way more fun to hop our no-legged dolls up than the stairs.

I was lucky to have that charming 1970's dollhouse. I realized this after seeing the awful, austure dollhouses that 18th century children had to suffer through:

I know, right? It's so sad. Each of these was the size of a bookcase, and so poorly decorated it was embarrassing.

Word on the street--and by the 'street,' I mean 'the placard'--was that these houses were often used to teach girls how to keep house and entertain properly. It's important to know which parlour is for serving tea to unexpected callers and which is to be used to showcase your talented children should they dare to come down from the nursery where their tutor is failing to keep order. It's no small wonder so many of life's finer nuances were lost once these tools went out of circulation and people started moving into flats smaller than their dollhouse's drawing rooms.

On a related note, I must tell you about Sweden's Junibacken (pronounced very, very roughly, 'Yuni-bawk-in'). It is a wonderland for anybody who has ever read or loved a children's book. Notably read or loved a Swedish children's book. 'Have I read a Swedish children's book...?' you may ask yourself, much as I did, prior to stepping foot in this place. Because it's not like when our parents were reading us our bedtime stories they would stop to explain, 'Now this one is by a British author, but the next one is Finnish!' Because seriously, we're five. We're just psyched the orphan has special powers. But yes, we have read a Swedish children's story: Pippi Longstocking! And if you were lucky, you may even have enjoyed Mumin. (I don't recall seeing this little guy as a child, though--my first exposure to him was via designer coffee mugs and trays and cushions at modern decor shops. Out of curiosity, do any Americans of my generation recall a Mumin book from their childhood?) The rest of the stories--The Brothers Lionheart, The Children of Noisy Village, Ronia the Robber's Daughter, or any involving a little boy named Alfons--were all completely new to me. My first exposure to them was here, at this children's fairy tale land, where all of the homes of these beloved storybook characters have been lovingly recreated, and you can run in and out of little funny-shaped doors and up and down tiny winding staircases, and get your rear stuck in itty-bitty velvet armchairs, and frighten small children who are running to enter a house at the exact same time that you're folding yourself out of the front door, roaring like a giant.

This is Mumin's house! Aya, Sofia, Lisa, Amarylis, and I had a pretend tea party in here. These sorts of rooms DEMAND pretend tea parties.

Aya makes this chair look normal-sized.

I also managed to cram myself headfirst into Rut & Knut & Lilla Tjut's house through this unnaturally small hole--looking for all the world like Winnie the Pooh stuck in the honey tree--before realizing there was a proper adult-sized door on the other side.

I didn't even try the stairs.

And then, after a magical story train where the train car left the tracks and turned into a sky ride and sailed over cities and villages, where beautifully-designed story scenes were laid out with the greatest attention to the tiniest details, and a voice told us the stories as they unfolded before our silent, awe-struck car, we arrived at our final destination: Villa Villakula, Pippi Longstocking's house. Words cannot describe the way my heart leaped when I saw it. I felt like I was eight years old again, futilely trying to braid my hair, secretly mismatching my socks, and yearning for a horse to ride to school. We squeezed up the little tower stairs and saw Pippi's attic bed where she slept with her feet on the pillows, and climbed on the Old Mule, and sat in her kitchen, and * sigh * Words fail me. It was just too sweet and amazing. I wish more than anything I had my nieces (Hunter and Peypey, 9 and 3) with me. They would've LOVED it. I now want to send them loads of these Swedish children's stories (of which you can get more copies of here than there) and then return with them someday.

I should have pictures of Stockholm -scapes (city- or land-) in the next few days, so stay tuned!

Big hugs, and may you do something childlike (or -ish) today,


  1. I want to go there. It sounds magical. My favourite journal ever I got from a Swedish market--there's a children's character on the front riding a bicycle. She's not Pippi, but I can't remember who she is (I didn't know her when I bought it, but my German employer recognised her immediately. She's lovely.)

  2. I am LMAO at you going through the 'hut hole' when there was a door on the other side. Sorry, it is just funny!

  3. Not sure what is more fun here. Looking at those oh so creature like toys and houses in the photos, or reading Sharona gorgeous writing !!!

  4. Oh Wow, these places are on my bucket list! I actually giggled like a little girl as I gawked at these pictures and read the inspired words describing them.
    Thank you!

  5. Matt--it was hysterical! (Once I survived, that is.) But you keep that up, and I'm pushing you through the hut hole personally. Let's see you laugh then.

  6. So much to say on this post! OK, I'll start at the bottom since that seems to be as good a place as any.

    1. Could you really walk in and look around?! That's so awesome! Hunter and I have finished reading Chapter one of Pippi and I couldn't help but read it in a southern accent. I don't know why but it just fit at the time. Now I know her "home" is in Sweden, I may have to switch!

    2. I would have loved to have seen you Winnie-the-Pooh stuck in that hole. That would be hilarious! I probably would have stuck my head in there too. Just because it was there. :)

    3. On the picture of the "fancy" second house,I loved the flooring design of the bottom story. That's pretty cool. And the staircase on the "fancy" first house is totally awesome! Our Barbies would have loved parading up and down them!

    4. I can't believe you remember so much about that dollhouse we had as kids and I'm so happy you do! Thanks for the reminder about the green foam beds - I wonder what they originally looked like. And stomping your feet at Mom about the sewing table is so like you (and me!). But did we have little people like in the picture? I can't remember...

    5. On the ping-pong children, that is my daily life so I'm glad you were one of "those" adults who lovingly embrace them in their ping-pong-ness (yes, I'm making up a word!).

    Great post, sissy! I really enjoyed the trip back in time and now I'm going out to jump on the trampoline as my act of childlike behavior!

  7. That place is great! I'm going to ask my dad what happened to my dollhouse...

  8. Uh. Maze. Ing. I'm seriously tearing up as childhood memories come flooding back.

    AND...I totally had that little 70s dollhouse too! Be still, my beating heart. I can only hope and pray one of my parents saved it so I can share it with Violet. Totally going to take a trip to Ohio just to find it.

    Fabulous pictures and words. Thank you for sharing!

  9. Alissa, you officially win the award for Best Blog Comment the Length of My Blog!! I love it!

    p.s. We TOTALLY had those dolls. I remember the guy used to confuse me because I thought somebody (Mom) had taken a marker to his head to draw on that hair. But now I know: it was created that bad.