Coveting Emil

I’ve been in Berlin for the last couple of weeks. It’s been hard to write blogs simply because there are so many things I want to write about but I have so little inclination to stay in my flat. Berlin is a city that demands attention. Museums, concert halls and bookshops are everywhere.

This afternoon, I went back to Dussman’s which describes itself as a ‘cultural department store’ – four floors of books and music in every imaginable form. Ever since my first visit to Dussman’s, I’ve been coveting the collected works of Erich Kastner’s children’s books. Kastner also wrote for adults but his children’s books achieved international success and are enduring classics. There was a huge boxed set of hardcovers at Dussman’s that I sooooo wanted to own but there were three problems. Firstly, they weighed a tonne, secondly they wouldn’t fit in my suitcase, and thirdly – and probably most significantly – they were in German and I can understand about twenty words of the language. But they were so lovely to hold! And the collection included all the ‘Emil’ novels.

I first read Emil and the Detectives when I was around nine years old. It conjured Berlin as a real city where real kids lived – not just a place of war and history. I loved how intrepid and optimistic Emil and his friends were. I loved the way they took charge of their lives. Kastner’s heroes were always believable, authentic children. In hindsight, I can see his influence in my own work and it makes me wish I could read German, just to have the pleasure of re-reading his books in the language in which Kastner wrote them.

The Germans are very loyal to their classic authors and they have a formidable publishing industry. Every bookshop has a good stock of authors from every era – both those who write for adults and for children. There are more than 83,000,000 people in Germany (four times the population of Australia) so I guess there are enough readers to keep classic novels evergreen but you can’t help but feel the Australian publishing industry is sadly focussed on new releases. I’d love to discover a ‘classic Australian children’s literature’ section in an Australian bookshop. It’s nice to dream.

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Books are windows into other ways of being.”

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