By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
A German Children’s Book Review Editor’s Picks
This summer, as announced in Publishing Perspectives, four children’s book editors from the US, three from Canada and one from the UK explored Germany’s publishing scene on the annual Editors Trip led by Frankfurt Book Fair New York’s Riky Stock.
The touring editors met with publishers, in Germany, as well as with fellow editors, rights directors, agents, illustrators, and booksellers.
While they learned about Germany’s book industry and some 20 publishing houses—from large ones such as Carlsen and Ravensburger to small ones such as Tulipan and Knesebeck—they also were pitched children’s literature currently selling well in Germany.
One of the Canadian participants, Karen Li of Owlkids Books, had a cogent observation about the international mix of kids’ books on the German market, saying, “I was surprised by the percentage of foreign translations on German lists. It’s interesting, particularly from a Canadian perspective.
“One of the biggest challenges in our native publishing industry,” Li said, “is how to avoid being culturally swallowed up by American culture. I had a great conversation with one editor about how Germany’s history might inform a reluctance to beat the drum for encouraging writers from a purely nationalist standpoint.”
In order to get a look at some of the leading titles of the season for children in Germany this autumn, Sylvia Muecke, editor at children’s book review magazine Eselsohr (the word means “dog-eared”), here provides us with her commentary on significant books, authors, and illustrators the group encountered during the trip.
These are Mueke’s opinions and recommendations, which may include interesting picks for industry players who’ll be at Frankfurter Buchmesse, October 11-15.
We turn the article over, then, to Muecke, with our thanks. And she starts us off with board books from three illustrators.
So leicht, so schwer (So Light, So Heavy)
Peter Hammer Verlag, ages 2 and older
I’d like to introduce you to Susanne Strasser, an artist who has become well-known for her board books, especially in the last three years. Her So leicht, so schwer finds light words and pictures for an elephant’s wish to see-saw. This is my hands-down favorite among all of last year’s new releases.
Strasser manages to captivate children, and the adults who read to them at the same time. Her text and illustrations are expressive and to the point, and she artfully plays with our expectations, touching us deeply and surprising us again and again.
Strasser has also published So weit oben (So Far Up) and So müde und hellwach (Very Sleepy and Wide Awake), also with Peter Hammer.
Es gibt keine Kinder (There’s No such Thing as Children)
Ein neuer Freund (The Little Monster Makes a New Friend)
Klett Kinderbuch, ages 2 and older
Moni Port is another board-book virtuoso. In Es gibt keine Kinder and Ein neuer Freund she creates an upside-down world—it’s not a child who’s afraid of monsters, but the reverse.
Großer kleiner Tiger (Big Little Tiger)
Ravensburger Verlag, ages 2 and older
My final board book recommendation is Großer kleiner Tiger. Jan Birck takes on the standard themes of numbers, animals, and colors, and then he adds his special touch. Readers will enjoy how the board book plays with perspective, with an energy and sense of humor that leaps from every page.
I just as heartily recommend Birck’s books for older children. Zarah und Zottel–ein Pony auf vier Pfoten (Zara and Shaggy–A Pony on Four Paws) (Fischer Sauerländer, ages 5 and older) showcases his talent for bringing that special touch to classic, everyday children’s themes, using few words and powerful, expressive images that reach well beyond their accompanying texts.
There’s also Flätscher–Die Sache stinkt (What a Stinker) and Flätscher–Krawall im Kanal (A Rumble in the Tunnels) from dtv Verlag Junior, ages 8 and older, the bestselling first and second books in an irreverent series about a mischievous skunk.
Du spinnst wohl (You Must Be Crazy)
Tulipan Verlag, ages 4 and older
Speaking of irreverent picture books, we can’t forget illustrator Kai Pannen.
Du spinnst wohl (You Must Be Crazy) is a one-of-a-kind advent calendar story.
Its sequel, Mach die Biege, Fliege (Bye-Bye, Fly) depict the improbable friendship between a spider and a fly who was originally supposed to become the spider’s Christmas dinner.
Party im Walfischbauch (Party in the Whale Belly)
Ein Pflaster für den Zackebarsch (A Plaster for the Grouper: Tales From the Doctorfish)
Nilpferd Verlag, ages 8 and older
Animal tales, father-son stories, sensitive themes. Jens Rassmus does it all, winning over readers every time.
The undersea story collections Party im Walfischbauch and Ein Pflaster für den Zackebarsch are particularly noteworthy, as is the charming father-son story Das brauch ich alles noch (I Still Need All of It) from Tulipan Verlag for ages 3 and older.
Rassmus can create heartfelt illustrations for the words of other authors as well as for his own writings. Schlafen Fische? / Do Fish Sleep? from Mixtvision for ages 8 and older) is at once the most poignant, and the most comforting, story about the death of a sibling that I’ve read in years.
Alexander Steffensmeier’s Lieselotte is an absolute bestseller wherever German is spoken, from board books and picture books, to all kinds of other related merchandise (all from Fischer Sauerländer).
Fisch (Fish )
Nordsüd Verlag, ages 4 and older
Linda Wolfsgruber has given us a classic comedy about five otters and a fish.
Pacing, suspense, and a surprise twist at the end—everything here is just right.
This picture book will have you laughing and trembling with suspense. With just a few, well-placed words, it’s a delight for reading aloud.
Minus Drei (Dino Mite)
cbj Verlag, ages 4 and older
Ute Krause’s series about a small dinosaur and his human pet Lucy is another book well-suited for reading aloud as well as for beginning readers.
The illustrations and short, to-the-point sentences fit seamlessly with one another and make every title in the series a rib-tickling pleasure.
Tulipan Verlag, ages 6 and older
The tongue-in-cheek Cowboy Klaus series by Eva Muszynski and Karsten Teich is a hit among beginning readers.
This winking depiction of cowboy life and a reluctant hero have delighted both boys and girls for years. For many children, this series makes reading irresistible.
Haferhorde (Oat Crew)
Magellan Verlag, ages 8 and older
Believe it or not, there’s something new in the world of horse books.
Suza Kolb gives her Haferhorde a unique voice.
The series pleasantly rises above other examples of its genre. Absolutely worth a look.
Luzifer junior: Zu gut für die Hölle (Lucifer Jr.: Too Good for Hell)
Loewe Verlag, ages 10 and older
Jochen Till introduces us to the son of the Devil, who is sent by his father to a school for humans–so he can finally learn how to be evil.
The enthusiastic response among German readers is well-deserved, and the series will certainly spark interest elsewhere.
Game Over: Wir retten die welt (Game Over: We Save the World)
Ravensburger Verlag, ages 10 and older
You won’t be able to put down Susanne Rauchhaus’ Game Over: Wir retten die welt.
The two protagonists narrate their shared gaming adventures, completing and continuing each other’s thoughts and interrupting one another impatiently.
The book works beautifully, and is highly entertaining. For me, it might be the surprise of the spring.
Der Kaugummigraf (The Count of Chewing Gum)
Carlsen Verlag, ages 10 and older
Kirsten Reinhardt’s Der Kaugummigraf is a special book, an intimate drama with only two characters, an eccentric old man who has a chewed gum collection and a child who has lost her parents.
The book’s perspective encompasses the big, wide world.
Das Herz von Libertalia (The Heart of Libertalia)
Beltz & Gelberg, ages 14 and older
Classic historic novels have become a rarity in young adult literature, so I can’t praise Anna Kuschnarowa and her Das Herz von Libertalia enough.
Set around 1700, it tells the engaging story of a young Irish woman, born a bastard and raised as a boy in the colonies. She doesn’t bow to conventions and stays true to her dreams, even when it means leaving home and becoming a pirate.
I’ll conclude by mentioning some up-and-coming talents and other relative newcomers in German YA literature, writers worth watching.
Radiating an awareness of the wider world, even when they deal with “specifically German” themes, these authors have enriched the field of German-language literature for young readers.
- Franziska Moll’s coming-of-age novel Egal wohin (I Don’t Care Where) (Loewe, ages 14 and older) is about 11 conflict-packed days leading up to a young woman’s 18th birthday—the day she plans to leave everything behind—and has been well received by German readers.
- Christoph Scheuring’s first novel Echt (Real) from Magellan Verlag for ages 12 and older, follows a wealthy teen who prefers watching life through the protection of a camera lens, but slowly gets drawn into the milieu of homeless children.
- Angela Mohr crafts strong characters in Zwei Tage, zwei Nächte und die Wahrheit über Seifenblasen (Two Days, Two Nights and the Truth about Soap Bubbles) from Arena Verlag for ages 14 and older. Mohr’s book won the German-French Prize for Youth Literature. This is essentially a road movie written from the perspectives of a boy and a girl on the run for different reasons. Thrown into each other’s path, they end up helping each other.
- Author Mehrnousch Zaeri-Esfahani and illustrator Mehrdad Zaeri-Esfahani emigrated to Germany from Iran around 30 years ago. They now offer a taste of their homeland through their books. Mehrnousch works through her odyssey in in 33 Bogen und ein Teehaus (33 Arches and One Teahouse) from Peter Hammer for ages 12 and older and Das Mondmädchen (The Moon Girl) from Knesebeck Verlag for ages 8 and older. Mehrdad has illustrated a new retelling of Aschenputtel (Cinderella), which is published by Knesebeck Verlag for ages 4 and older.
- Julya Rabinowich, author of Dazwischen: ich (Me: In-Between from Hanser, for ages 14 and older) and Alina Bronsky, author of Und du kommst auch drin vor (You’re in It, Too from dtv Junior for ages 12 and older, are two writers I jokingly refer to as “Russian imports.” Maybe it’s that backround that allows them to observe and finely dissect German and Austrian realities from such an original perspective, making the “small regional worlds” that they describe appear universal. Both authors possess a flair that should be immediately appealing to international audiences.