At the Swedish Embassy, Playtime With Pippi

The House of Sweden's
The House of Sweden's "Children First!" program includes the DigiWall. At center is a girl dressed as Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking character. (Photos By Jay Premack For The Washington Post)
By Mary Quattlebaum
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, September 28, 2007

Imagine a birthday party, complete with a playhouse, climbing wall and bubble-making machine, that lasts two months. Through Nov. 25, the House of Sweden, which comprises the Swedish Embassy and its cultural center, offers that and more with its "Children First!" program, celebrating the 100th birthday anniversary of children's author Astrid Lindgren, creator of the "Pippi Longstocking" tales.

Saturday's activities at the embassy in Northwest Washington include cookie decorating, a scavenger hunt and story times featuring spunky Pippi and her Washington counterpart, Lucy Rose, the feisty title character of a chapter-book series by D.C. author Katy Kelly.

"Every child in Sweden knows Astrid Lindgren and her books, and we wanted to introduce them to more American children," said Joran Bjallerstedt, minister of the Swedish Embassy and project leader for "Children First!" The "Pippi Longstocking" series (the first volume was published in 1945) and numerous other books by Lindgren (1907-2002) have been translated into 86 languages.

"To honor [Lindgren's] spirit, we wanted to provide a wide variety of things to stimulate all types of creativity," Bjallerstedt said of the embassy's "Tricky Mix" interactive science displays, movie room, photography exhibit and reading room for children.

It's easy to imagine that the ultra-creative, 9-year-old Pippi would be delighted with the results. On a recent Sunday, the first floor teemed with families exploring the 33 science displays. Youngsters experimented with gravity and friction by racing marbles on a sloping bench and literally made waves by tilting a wave cradle.

"Look at this!" said my daughter, Christy, 9, as she showed me how an optical-illusion mirror blended her face with that of her friend Hannah Levine, 8, so that the image combined Christy's brown eyes with Hannah's freckled nose.

"Everyone's having a good time," said volunteer Sean Owens, 16, of Bethesda as he watched parents, kids and teens trying to climb the DigiWall, an electronic wall with grips that light up and make sounds when touched. "I tried it, and it's harder than you might think."

On the ground floor, the reading room proved enticing to Jay Murray, 5, and his brother, Emmit, 3, of Washington. The boys pointed excitedly at the bright walls, big red cushions and stacks of children's books in Swedish and English. They hopped from one red carpet circle to another, tracing and retracing the path to the playhouse, a yellow circus wagon complete with hobby horses, a striped carpet and yet more books.

The work of various Swedish artists is also on display. In the movie room, four children and two adults were creating their own short film with equipment and techniques developed by TV producer and animator Erling Ericsson. Other youngsters sat on plump hassocks and watched short children's movies by Ericsson and other Swedish filmmakers.

The photographs by Ulla Lemberg in the exhibit "I Want You to Know" honor another side of Lindgren's work: her advocacy for children's rights. They show the conditions in which children in 80 countries live and learn. "The embassy wanted to emphasize that children have a right not just to play but to play in a safe environment," said Mats Widbom, embassy cultural counselor. " 'Children First!' seminars for adults will address ways we can safeguard children's rights."

Widbom pointed to photographs that document social change, including the growing trend of fathers involved in child care. "These remind me of my own days as a dad with young children," he said, smiling. The images of dads and their kids playing, shopping together and sharing a quiet moment are touching and often playful. And it was delightful, too, to see the numbers of youngsters dragging their own fathers through to see them.

Free children's programs:

Saturday from 10 to 3 From 10 to 1, a children's safety event includes safety tips and identification kits. From 1 to 3, writer Katy Kelly leads activities.

Nov. 3 at 11 and Nov. 4 at noon and 3 "Order in the Flowerbeds," a playful puppet show about the naturalist Carl Linnaeus.

Nov. 14 from 10 to 6 Celebrate Astrid Lindgren's 100th birthday anniversary with a Pippi-style party with storytelling, films and treat bags.

Children First! House of Sweden, 2900 K St. NW (Metro: Foggy Bottom-GWU) Phone:202-467-2645 Hours: Monday-Wednesday from 10 to 6, Saturday-Sunday from 10 to 4 Admission: Free Children First! House of Sweden, 2900 K St. NW (Metro: Foggy Bottom-GWU) Phone:202-467-2645 Hours: Monday-Wednesday from 10 to 6, Saturday-Sunday from 10 to 4 Admission: Free

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