The Inner Child reading weekend was a huge success here chez dovegreyreader and I'm now going to schedule it in as a regular slot, first weekend each month if anyone wants to join me. So many books from my childhood that I've wanted to re-read but never quite manage to slip them in amongst everything else, so it's clear I need to create some dedicated time. Of course you don't have to read the books that I do so why not choose one of your own if you want to, and then I'll let you join my Inner Child Gang, there'll probably be a badge and a secret sign and a special password too.
I put aside all my seriously grown-up reading on the Friday, made my four-book selection as if standing in the library on a Saturday morning in the early 1960s and suddenly had that strange buzz of a excitement that I used to have looking at a pile of new unread library books. I was very strict about it and n'er a grown-up book did I open for the whole weekend.
I have no idea how old I was when I first read Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner but I suspect I read most of the books I'm revisiting at the moment between the ages of about six and eleven, so 1959 to 1965 or so.
When did I suddenly feel too old to read Malcolm Saville?
Reading again, with the eyes of an adult and trying to refract back to those eyes of a child, has been pure pleasure and I have gleaned a real sense of just why I loved these books so much.
In my mind's eye I could see the actual cover of the copy I'd read as a child and I'm sure it was this one.
Emil and his widowed hairdresser mother live in Neustadt and it is whilst travelling alone by train for a week's stay with his grandmother in Berlin that Emil's adventure begins, and I say no more about that beyond telling anyone who has never read it, or has and has forgotten, there is a thief to be brought to book and as Erich Kastner established for countless future writers of children's fiction, children make the very best detectives.
The book was first published in Germany in 1929 and here in the UK in 1931 and that makes a good deal of the action all the more surprising as Erich Kastner invests his children with untold freedoms to be everything that children are exceptionally good at given the opportunity. Given a sort of well-organised democracy of their own children thrive in the hands of Erich Kastner.
Immediately assimilated into his Berlin 'gang' with no questions asked beyond the prospect of a jolly good adventure and in the rough world of a busy city, Emil rapidly belongs as if he's known them all forever and every enviable childlike quality emerges. Spontaneity, self-organisation, sharing, pooling resources, making sacrifices for the good of the others, complete loyalty and commitment to each other and the cause, self-discipline, a touch of well-placed rebellion. Worrisome parents are sidelined and just don't feature as this esprit de corps carries the boys along with the addition a token girl in the shape of Emil's cousin Pony Hutchen, (who at least has the advantage of the brand new bicycle) on the trail of the thief and wonderfully imaginative innovations abound.
All that would have passed me by as a child for sure and I'd have been reading this for the complete adventure that it is, but I couldn't put it down this time round either.