Ronia, the Robber's Daughter

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
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Enchanting fantasy boasts spirited heroine, loving family.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lessons on bravery, overcoming differences, and reconciliation.

Positive Messages

Strong themes of loyalty and caring for others: Ronia's unconventional family is very close and supportive, and they care deeply for each other. The story also celebrates free spirits who buck convention and thoughtfully pursue their own paths. It's impossible to avoid all danger, but you can make sensible decisions and cultivate a mindset resistant to fear. One good turn deserves another. Petty disagreements can have disastrous consequences. Working together can help everyone.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ronia is deeply empathetic and courageous, risking her own safety to save others. She's fiercely independent, and sometimes impetuous, but determined not to be undone by fear. Her rebellion is rooted in her empathy for others, including Birk's family and the robbers' victims. Ronia's father is emotionally volatile, prone to both teary breakdowns and fearsome rages, and her mother is smart source of calm. They both give their daughter wide latitude to find her own way and nurture her confidence. Birk is a joyful presence, open-hearted and kind, but just as determined as Ronia.

 

Violence & Scariness

Children are menaced by fantastical creatures including harpies, dwarves, and trolls and are repeatedly in deadly peril. Robbers torment travelers in the woods. Feuding chiefs threaten to kill each other's clans and kidnap each other's children. A man strikes his wife in anger, and she then hits a man who comes to her aid.

 

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ronia, the Robber's Daughter, first published in 1981, is a fantasy by Astrid Lindgren (Pippi Longstocking) featuring a free-thinking, self-reliant girl being raised in a band of thieves. The warmhearted men in the clan are loyal and very fond of Ronia. They drink and get rowdy, and the chief in particular is prone to yelling and throwing objects when he's angry or upset. Ronia and her friend Birk do not approve of thieving but love their families unconditionally. There are some scenes of intense, fantastical dangers, including attacks by clawing harpies and menacing dwarves and gnomes. The rivalry between robber clans -- and disagreements within each family -- is full of angry threats and promises of violence. Two men face off in a violent fight for supremacy, ending with mutual respect and friendship. Characters deal with starvation, freezing, and the risk of execution. One character dies peacefully. The book makes a great read-aloud. It was also adapted by Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away) for an animated series with a slightly different title, Ronja, the Robber's Daughter, which premiered in early 2017.

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What's the story?

The stormy night RONIA, THE ROBBER'S DAUGHTER is born, lightning cleaves her family's fort in two. She's raised within the confines of the stronghold by her patient mother, Lovis, and her adoring father, the robber chief Matt. One day Ronia encounters a boy named Birk, son of the rival chief Borka, and saves him from a terrible fall. Borka's wife and his band of robbers have moved into the other side of the fort, infuriating Matt. Ronia and Birk become devoted friends, meeting in secret in the magical woods. But when their feuding parents discover their relationship, Ronia is disowned by her father and the children run away to live in the forest. Ronia is heartbroken to have to choose between her birth family and the boy she calls brother.

Is it any good?

This magical adventure story by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren features a fiercely independent heroine to rival her beloved Pippi Longstocking in determination, loyalty, and sheer chutzpah. Ronia, the Robber's Daughter weaves a spell from some classic building blocks of great stories: an enchanted forest of great beauty and great danger, feuding clans, forbidden friendship, and rebellious children. Lindgren skillfully straddles the line: Her characters break rules and take great risks, but the overriding message is about responsibility to yourself and to others.

The pace of the story -- and this edition's small type -- might turn off some modern readers. Fortunately, it's a wonderful read-aloud: An adult can help bring to life the lively banter between Ronia and her loved ones. Lindgren's description of the forest's changing nature through the seasons is worth lingering over.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about breaking rules in Ronia, the Robber's Daughter. Is it ever OK to ignore a rule? How do you determine whether a rule is unjust?

  • Check out the animated series and talk about how the it compares with the book. Which version do you prefer? Why?

  • In what ways does Ronia show courage? What's the difference between being brave and being reckless?

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