I want to start German Literature Month (hosted by Caroline and Lizzy) with a big Thank You to Melissa, who blogs at The Bookbinder’s Daughter. She recently wrote about small presses, and through the article, I got to the home page of the New York Review of Books, where I clicked on the NYR Children’s Collection link. And there, to my heart’s utmost delight, I saw that two of my favorite children’s books have recently been translated by Anthea Bell and published by NYRB.
My sister and I grew up with books written by Otfried Preussler. The Little Ghost, The Water Sprite, The Little Witch, and The Robber Hotzenplotz were all favorites that were frequently read, first by our parents and then independently by us. I have such fond memories of all of these books!
In The Little Witch, a witch—only 127 years old—sneaks to Brocken Mountain on Walpurgis Night to dance and sing with all the other witches, even though she is too young to participate. Caught by her evil aunt, the witches take her broomstick to punish her and tell her she has one year to become a seriously good witch to ever be invited to another Walpurgis Night. Can the Little Witch be good for a whole year and prove herself to the other witches? Does she even know what it really means to be a good witch?
In The Robber Hotzenplotz, Hotzenplotz steals the new musical coffee mill that Kasperl gave to his grandmother as a present. The robber has no problem evading Dimplemoser, the useless policeman who’s been trying to catch him for years. So Kasperl and his friend Seppel vow to catch the robber themselves, fighting not only against the robber, but also against the wicked magician Petrosilius Zackleman.
I was delighted to see how well these two books have carried themselves since they were first published 50+ years ago. I am even more delighted that the publisher decided to keep the illustrations that already graced the editions I read as a child. Looking at the pictures was like meeting old friends! The stories are firmly rooted in folklore; adult readers will easily recognize the slightly naïve character of the Kasper (the harlequin) or the various rituals that are connected to Walpurgisnacht, or Witches’ Night. Some aspects of both stories may seem a little dated, but there are plenty of humor, funny names, and tongue in cheek to delight young readers.
The books are recommended for children age 4 to 12, and I think that is a good age range. My sister and I grew up with Preussler’s books, and I am more than happy to share his stories with my children now. Guess what they’ll be getting for Christmas…