Erich Kaestner wrote wonderfully funny and witty, heartwarming stories about kids who find themselves confronted with adult sized problems and solve them with courage and dignity. Kaestner was a man who had not forgotten what it is like to be a child and who took children seriously. Have you ever read C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Children? Kaestner writes in a similar voice, unpatronizing and honest, speaking to children as equals. Most of Kaestner's books take place in Berlin in the twenties and thirties, a hard time and place to grow up in. Unemployment, poverty and crime cause oppressive hardship in the lives of Kaestner's young heroes who show amazing strength of character in the face of adversity. Kaestner belonged to the generation of Germans who had lost their faith but still believed in the morality of their Christian heritage. I grew up with these books. They were and still are my favorites.
Emil and the Detectives tells the story of Anton Tischbein, who is sent to Berlin carrying his mother's hard-earned money which they cannot afford to lose. A thief promptly robs him on the train ride to the city. Emil is assisted by a group of feisty, street smart Berlin kids who help him retrieve the money and capture a gang of criminals. I love the original illustrations by Walter Trier in this edition.
Dot and Anton is the story of two children who meet begging at night on a Berlin city bridge. Dot is the daughter of a wealthy banker, neglected by her socialite mother, who is forced to beg by the criminal boy friend of her nanny. Dot is funny, smart and adventurous and enjoys the nightly outings. When she meets Anton, sole supporter of his sick, widowed mother, who needs to beg for survival, Dot decides to help him. Together they put the evil boyfriend behind bars and greatly improve the lives of Anton and his mother.
The Flying Classroom is the title of a school play being staged by the students of a boarding school. The high school students involved have to fight some serious battles before the performance can take place at the end of the school year. Cruel bullying occurs among class mates and a student is kidnapped by rival middle schoolers. All is presented with Kaestner's special brand of dry humour.
Lisa and Lotti are twins who were separated at a very young age. When their parents divorced, they took one girl each. Ignorant of their past, the girls accidentally meet at summer camp. Once they find out the truth, they conspire to reconcile their parents by means of a secret daughter swap. The plot may sound familiar. It has been adapted for the movie screen several times. The most famous version is probably the Parent Trap with Haley Mills.