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Emil and the Detectives

Author: Erich Kästner. Translated by Eileen Hall. Illustrated by Walter Trier
Series: Puffin Story Book
Published: Harmondsworth
Physical Description: 127p, ill, 19cm, pbk
Notes: Erich Kästner (1899-1974) was a ‘German journalist, poet, satirist, and writer of screenplays and novels for both adults and children’. Emil and the Detectives was first published in 1929 and has since been translated into fifty-seven different languages. Despite Kästner’s satirical work for adults being burned by the Nazis, his children’s novels, including Emil and the Detectives were popular during the 1930s and 1940s (O’Sullivan 143-4). The novel was first published in the Puffin Story Book series in 1959, suggesting its continued success in addition to the willingness of the series to publish international works in translation. The book tells the story of a boy Emil Tischbein who is sent by train alone to Berlin to visit his grandmother and to bring her money from his mother. While on the train, Emil is robbed and sets off on his own to catch the thief. He soon meets Gustav, a boy of his own age, who rallies a gang of boys to help catch the thief. Peter Hunt and others cite the novel as one of the first books featuring detection for children, and also beginning of or inspiration for other novels featuring gangs of children, by authors such as Enid Blyton (Hunt 180). The child’s perspective is often foregrounded throughout in the narrative voice, demonstrated early in the novel when Emil shows an awareness of adults’ nostalgia (20). The group formed by the children demonstrates a sense of democracy, as they vote on important issues and every boy is assigned a different role. The story ends triumphantly, as the thief, who turns out to be a bank robber, is caught through the children’s ingenuity. Significantly, when Emil, his grandmother, and cousin meditate on what the moral of the story might be, his grandmother laughingly suggests that money should be sent through the post (128), in a circumvention of typical morality of right and wrong.
[Ciara Gallagher].
O' Sullivan, Emer. Historical Dictionary of Children’s Literature. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010.
Hunt, Peter. Children’s Literature. Maldon, MA: Blackwell, 2001.
Subject: Translated Work, Detective, Adventure, Boys, Germany, Berlin, Robbery, Gangs of Children, Narrative Voice, Moral
Language: English
Original price: 2/6
Library: Church of Ireland College of Education
Collection: Bartlett Puffin Collection - CICE