Emil Svensson lives with his family on a farm called Katthult, set in the village of Lönneberga a few miles from the town of Vimmerby. His age ranges from about five to eight in the books. He has fair hair and blue eyes and looks like an angel, but is not, as he also has a prodigious knack for getting into trouble. Contrary to what most people around him think, Emil is not malicious, but does not think about the consequences of his actions. He even states at one point that "you don't make up pranks, they just happen".
Emil sets out to catch a rat, a lot of food is spilled, and he locks himself into the tool-shed with the intention to spend the rest of his life in there, carving wooden figures for his collection.