Sunday, July 20, 2014

Balancing between Instruction and Delight -- Erich Kastner


My brother and I grew up on the wonderful children books by Erich Kastner.  Emil Erich Kästner , 1899 -1974, was a German author, poet, screenwriter and satirist, who is best known for his humorous, socially astute poetry and children's literature.

Growing up we didn’t have many books at home, at that time we got our books from the public library, but we did own 6 books by Erich kastner (translated into Hebrew with the original illustrations).   Emil und die Detektive, 1929; in English Emil and the Detectives; Pünktchen und Anton, 1931; in English, Anna Louise and Anton; Der 35. Mai, 1931; in English, The 35th of May, or Conrad's Ride to the South Seas; Emil und die Drei Zwillinge (Emil and the Three Twins) 1933; Das fliegende Klassenzimmer, 1933; in English, The Flying Classroom; Das doppelte Lottchen, 1949; in English, Lottie and Lisa.

 Kastner wasn’t only  a great story teller but an educator and a humanist. He believed that the role of literature was to delight and instruct, he wrote to children and their parents. Yet his instruction is never preachy; ion Pünktchen und Anton, for example, after each chapter he turns directly to the reader (or  the parents,) wearing his writer’s hat and discusses the dilemmas and the values of the plot and the characters. Although as a young reader I always skipped the observations,  as Kastner had predicted I would do, as I grew older I learned to appreciate the instructive part and started reading it very carefully.  

Kastner has always been very popular in Israel, but as a mother in the US when I was looking for the books in English they were almost impossible to find. It took me years to find, in used books  stores (even not in the library) four or five of Kastner’s children book in English. When finally traced I was delighted to see that my girls loved  Erich Kastner  as much as I did.

In a way Kastner  for me had the similar role as the Beatles did.  I never stopped listening to them but special albums starred at different times. It was the same with Erich Kastner’s books, I kept reading them first as a child, later as a teen ager and also as a mother, but chose a different book depending on the time and the mood.

Still, talking to my brother we both agreed that our all-time favorite is The Flying Classroom, we still quote full sentences (in Hebrew) from this book

Although written in the 1930, children and their parents In Germany and  Israel continue to enjoy Erich Kastner , his appeal is everlasting.  I hope that those books will be reissued in the US so that American children and their parents will finally be able to enter the delightful world of Erich Kastner.

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